More absurdity this week: FIFA, the international governing body of football, banned the Iranian women’s soccer team from an Olympic qualifying event because the players wear hijab — Islamic headscarves. The official reason: safety. Wearing a hijab while playing “could cause choking injuries.”
Yeah, sure. As one commenter noted, Google “hijab soccer choking deaths” and the search engine doesn’t exactly hum.
These aren’t just any hijabs, mind you. They have to be the coolest ones ever. They’re like speed-skaters’ hoods, and the players look like white-clad ninjas. I’ll bet they can move like ninjas too. Clearly FIFA has no sense of style.
Correction: FIFA has no sense, period.
The decision to ban the Iranian team was made by FIFA head Sepp Blatter, who’s apparently one of those Berlusconi-type men who’ll tell you how much he loves women, by which he means how much he loves looking at female flesh. No, I’m not making assumptions. The arrant hypocrisy of this ban is clear when you consider the fact that Blatter proposed in 2004 that women players wear plunging neckines and hot pants on the pitch to boost soccer’s popularity. Tighter shorts, he said, would create “a more female esthetic.”
I guess it was kind of amazing he didn’t propose wet tee-shirts.
And if you believe that Blatter is for a moment concerned about women being injured, his response to requests by human rights organizations to take a stand against the sex trafficking that accompanies the arrival of the World Cup was this: “Prostitution and trafficking of women does not fall within the sphere of responsibility of an international sports federation but in that of the authorities and the lawmakers of any given country.”
No, Blatter’s all about the sport. He’s presumably salivating for more on-field celebrations like Brandi Chastain‘s famous shirtless moment when the U.S. won the 1999 Women’s World Cup. And drooling over women’s sportswear catalogs instead of Victoria’s Secret ones. In which case he’s pathetically misreading that Chastain photo. This was the victory of hard work and muscle over frills and pretty posturing. Serena Williams revolutionized women’s tennis in much the same way, making it a power game (in dress as well as style of play — the black catsuit she wore a couple of years back was dynamite).
What Blatter’s really doing is trying to piggyback on the burqa ban in France and the minaret ban in his native Switzerland. But the good news is that it’s backfiring on him. Badly. Already the focus of multiple accusations of corruption in his 12-year tenure as FIFA president, he probably saw this as an easy way to try to redeem himself by jumping on the anti-Muslim bandwagon. Instead, the storm of criticism might be an indication that Europeans are beginning to realize just how badly they’ve been manipulated by misogynistic xenophobes on such issues as burqa bans.
One further note on that shirtless photo: Chastain herself was amazed when it ran worldwide . “I wasn’t trying to make a statement; I was just carried away, and doing what male players do in the same situation,” she told me when I met her not long after. “I was really surprised there was so much fuss about it. I mean, there’s a much better photo of the victory moment, but nobody ran that one.” Here it is, on the right — the photo they didn’t run, baggy shirt, baggy pants, and all. Which I guess just means the world is full of Blatters.
(Thank to Sarah Hashim for alerting me to this story. I know I was born in England, but soccer’s not my thing. Tennis, though…)
Thank you for your insight and humor, and for posting this. Sanaa
Pity for Iranian Women Soccer team..
But more pity when I heard that it was Bahrain who filed the statement during the match.. Funny when football meets politics and religion.. 😉
It is time other players on other teams refused to play if an injustice is done to other players on other teams such as in the case of the Iranian women. The old corrupt men who run FIFA should be embarassed by the athletes for whom the game exists.
Lesley, thank you for this post. I was quite astonished too when I first saw this information few days ago. When researching the topic further, I found another interesting example of Jewish basketball player Naama Shafir (link below).
I wonder what really lies at the core of this issue. Firstly, we have Western world with its rather strict separation between religion and public life. Since the West has a lot of power over many spheres of international public life it enforces this value of separation on many various parties, being it Iranian footballers or Jewish basketball players. What is important I guess, is that in modern Christianity there is less artifacts which could be affected by such separation so we can accept it easier. But is not it a very effect of centuries-long separation in the first place? Secondly, we have cultures for which such separation is a very unusual concept due to completely different role religion plays in their societies. It seems that the West has no proper understanding of this role and those societies. Is not it the deficiency of modern understanding of cosmopolitanism – us, the West, imposing our values on other cultures in the name of vaguely understood human rights?
Here is a link to the story: http://www.jpost.com/Sports/Article.aspx?id=224734
Here is a great picture of the Iranian footballers taken after they heard the decision, I reckon: http://a6.sphotos.ak.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ak-ash4/254284_10150651695560657_805115656_19225931_1960693_n.jpg
Pity..they look so cool.
I thought diversity and inclusiveness was at the heart of international sport.
“They have to be the coolest ones ever. They’re like speed-skaters’ hoods, and the players look like white-clad ninjas. I’ll bet they can move like ninjas too. Clearly FIFA has no sense of style.” made my day. & by his sex trafficking remark, were you trying to imply that he’s a “consumer”? Cuz I just made a nasty connection. After all, if he’s not a “consumer”, then where do the thousands of trafficked persons go to instead if a Fifa head?