The Qataris refused, forfeited the game to the Mongolians and then pulled out of the tournament entirely.
But the ban didn’t just affect the Qataris. Many athletes, especially Muslim women, have felt the ban has put them in a very difficult position. “It’s a horrible feeling. There’s nothing in the world like having to choose between your faith and something you love,” American-Muslim basketball player Indira Kajlo told the AP.
Finally recognizing the bind they were putting athletes in, FIBA (basketball’s international governing body) voted unanimously yesterday to allow players to wear religious headgear during games.
The path to yesterday’s vote began in the wake of the Qatari incident, as a groundswell of support grew to change this rule, led by Muslim women who wanted to play basketball at the highest level, while still observing their religious practices.
The fight gained more support earlier this year when Athlete Ally, an LGBTQ advocacy group, expanded it’s mission and wrote an open letter to FIBA in January calling for it to overturn the ban. Athletes across multiple sports signed the letter, including 15 players from the WNBA, which still has a similar headgear ban in place.
It certainly didn’t hurt the cause that one of the biggest players in all of sports, sportswear giant Nike, was actively supporting players wearing headgear, debuting its first hijab designed for athletes in March. While Nike has a reputation for throwing its financial weight around international sports with some questionable results, this appears to be an instance where the company used its influence for good.
“I think the immediate beneficiaries are Muslim female athletes, [but] the prohibition applied to all kinds of headgear, so many groups will be affected by this modification,” Big East commissioner Val Ackerman told Excelle Sports. “This is a victory for inclusion in international basketball.”