KEIR RADNEDGE: Prince Ali of Jordan wants to see the hijab out on the football pitch.
Not, of course, that the youngest member of FIFA’s executive committee wants to wear it himself. This is, after all, the Muslim women’s headscarf.
But he is hoping to persuade the law-making International Board that to overturn its current prohibiton would empower many more women to play football in the Islamic world. He will be making the case to IFAB at its annual meeting in Surrey, southwest of London, on Saturday.
IFAB, made up of four FIFA representatives and one each from the British home associations, is a highly conservative body; that caution has generally served the game well. Not for IFAB change for change’s sake or the slightest urge to jump on a bandwagon or wear a passing fashion.
This is one reason why so many years have been spent bringing an acceptable form of goal-line technology to Saturday’s table.
Down the years IFAB has been especially protective of the standard football kit. Stringent rules and regulations govern the presentation, positioning and size of club badges, sportwear logos, numbers, names and shirt-adverts.
Sportswear manufacturer Puma sparked all sorts of trouble when it kitted out Cameroon in an innovative, all-in-one ‘uniform’ for an African Nations Cup. FIFA, acting in defence of IFAB’s laws of the game, was quick to consign that marketing marvel to the dustbin of football history.
Then the justification was safety. This reasoning was rolled out again when the the headscarf issue erupted singularly in Canada in 2007 and then, in the full glare of international competition, in June last year when Iran’s women’s team were ‘hijabbed’ themselves out of the Olympic qualifiers in Jordan.
Ironically that was the day before Prince Ali officially took up his role on the FIFA executive committee but, since the incident occurred in his own back yard, it helped fuel his pursuit of a change of attitude.
The alacrity with which Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attacked the issue promoted speculation that the incident had been provoked deliberately, on orders from elsewhere. But this ‘take’ has never been shown up as any more than that, the product of suspicious minds.
Now that the initial extremist posturing – on both sides of the argument – has abated, IFAB must decide where it stands. This is not an issue of a definitive change of a law, rather an issue of comprehension, enabled by the use of a Velcro-fastened headscarf which ends health and safety concerns.
Prince Ali says: “It’s very important. Women’s football has come a long way, as we experienced in the last Women’s World Cup, and the present situation is saying to women worldwide that you’re not allowed to participate for a reason that makes no sense. That’s prejudice. It’s not fair. It has to be dealt with.
“Long sleeves and leggings already allowed. This is not an issue of religious symbolism it is simple a case of cultural modesty and I’m tackling this now because it is big issue for many many women all across the world.
“I’d be very disappointed for the game if IFAB said No. It’s an issue which will not go away. I’m optimistic this will happen. If not there will be lot of soul searching about what the priorities are in this sport. Everyone from the UN to the regional federations are supportive so I don’t see what the problem is.”
Prince Ali refutes vehemently any suggestion that permitting the headscarf would put football on a slippery slope of being pressed to pander to religious and/or political and/or cultural extremism.
As he says: “This is an opportunity to empower women in sport . . . it’s a golden opportunity for the game.”
Also at www.World Soccer.com
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