5 minutes with Iranian women: FIFA says headscarves are unsafe. Iran is crying foul. Inside the controversy.
After eight months of hard training, the Iranian women’s football team marched on to the pitch for a key match in Amman, Jordan. They had their sights set on the 2012 Olympics, and the June 3 game was crucial for advancement. The players wore a conservative uniform in line with Muslim tradition: long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and headscarves.
The national anthems played. Then, an unexpected announcement from the referee: the Iranian uniforms didn’t meet FIFA regulations, and so the team couldn’t compete in the match. Several Iranian players fell to their knees in disbelief and began weeping. The disqualification had squashed their Olympic dreams. “We were shocked and upset,” team captain Niloofar Ardalan said to NEWSWEEK. “We couldn’t mask our disappointment.”
There’s been no shortage of controversy surrounding FIFA in recent months. Sordid tales of bribery in the vote for the organization’s president and in the selection of Qatar for the 2022 World Cup have become regular tabloid fodder. But the dispute over the Islamic uniform has reverberated far beyond the world of football. Critics have blasted FIFA officials for being racist and sexist. The ban has not only hurt the Iranian team, it could potentially disqualify dozens of other Muslim players with headscarves inside and outside the Middle East. For their part, FIFA officials have defended the decision by claiming the headscarf could pose a choking hazard.