[Editor’s Note: Morris Levin will be contributing an article each Friday while Paul takes his break. Enjoy! — Phil Hecken]
Religious Modesty and Competitive Sports
By Morris Levin
The qualifying rounds for next summer’s Olympic soccer tournament are underway. For international women’s soccer, the two highest-profile international competitions are the World Cup, and the Olympic soccer tournament. The World Cup ended July 17 in Germany; the next Olympic tournament is next summer at the London games.
The matches are played under the auspices of FIFA, the governing body of international association football.
So it was on June 3 that Iran had a qualifying match against Jordan in Amman. The full Iran squad appeared for the match outfitted in uniform athletic hijabs. Match officials did not judge the apparel to have been pre-approved. The Iran team refused to remove them, cited adherence to ritual practice, and forfeited the match to Jordan. Following the decision, FIFA supported the decision of the match officials; Iran protested the forfeiture, and subsequently has received the support of FIFA’s Vice-President, a Jordanian national.
Last month in Poland was the 2011 European Women Basketball Championship. It is a sixteen-team bi-annual tournament which crowns its own champion, and is a qualifying tournament for the FIBA World Championship for Women and for the Olympic Games.
Israel was among the qualifying teams this year. On its roster was University of Toledo guard, Naama Shafir. Shafir is Jewish, and in adherence with her religious practice, elects to cover her shoulders and upper arms on the court. Wearing a t-shirt under one’s jersey is a common practice in the NCAA for both men and women. On a college court, Shafir dresses like a lot of other players.
However, like the NBA, FIBA, international basketball’s European headquartered governing body, does not permit players to wear undershirts. In an effort to address FIBA’s regulations, the team “team created a jersey with a shooter’s sleeve designed to cover her shoulder… …made of nylon and spandex that extends from the player’s biceps to the wrist.” In the event that FIBA would reject the ad-hoc solution, the squad brought an extra player to the tournament. Shafir was also prepared to sit out.
The desire of an athlete (or full team) to wear an extra-garment for religious reasons poses an interesting question to our sports governing bodies. After all, clothing, and how the body is covered, is treated in different ways by different theological understandings and cultural orientations.
This question speaks to the relationship between civil society and religious institutions, a key question for the Enlightenment. We have those who would subordinate the church to the state (as in Hobbes and Spinoza) and those who would attempt to separate the two (as in Locke). This is not a new or uniquely contemporary issue. We see the challenge in finding broad cross-demographic consensus in issues from same-gender civil marriage to celebrations of holy days on public property.
But sports present a potentially neutral venue for the state and the church to co-exist. After all, at its highest competitive levels, winning cures all.
In prohibiting Iran’s wearing of the hijab, FIFA cited its own bylaws concerning player’s equipment, “A player shall not use equipment or wear anything (including any kind of jewelry) that could be dangerous to himself or another player.” This would seem to assume that wearing a hijab is dangerous on the field.
FIFA permits goalkeepers to wear caps under section 22 in Section 5, “All goalkeepers may, irrespective of the prevailing conditions, wear a goalkeeper cap of any Colour.” These are often baseball caps but can be caps with protective padding which seem to have their own issues if we are concerned about choking. Grab the strap!
Hijabs made specifically for athletic play are now widely available.
Montreal industrial designer Elham Seyed Javad created a sport-specific hijab following the expulsion of Muslim athletes from a taekwondo tournament. The taekwondo sports federation had previously reasoned that a regular cloth hijab could not be worn under a helmet for safety reasons. Javad’s design easily addressed this obstacle.
Primary in my mind is the impact of a garment on performance. We encountered this with Speedo’s polyurethane LZR racer swimsuit. Records fell due to the fabric which lead to a ban on the suit in January 2010. Metal bats were not permitted in professional baseball because it would significantly change performance (and also endanger pitchers). Women wearing extra fabric around their head is unlikely to improve performance.
University of Memphis junior Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir wears a cap playing Division I basketball in her practice of modest Islamic dress. It certainly did not prevent her from breaking Rebecca Lobo’s Massachusetts high school career point record. Last summer, Minnesota Vikings safety Husain Abdullah fasted during the Muslim liturgical month of Ramadan. Shafir, wearing sleeves, scored 40 points to lead Toledo to the WNIT championship.
Sports invite the possibility for individuals to connect, countries to re-engage each other, and people divided to march together when wider dialogues or partnerships are difficult if not impossible. Sport is not inherently a panacea itself, nor am I a romantic about deep rooted divisions.
Allowing athletes who wish to cover more of their skin – when it does not serve to improve physical performance – should be allowed. Uniforms serve to identify players and teams and no one has suggested a garment, which prevents this utility.
When we can let go of this issue, we can then focus on the proper question which applies as equally to sports hijabs as it does to any other article of athletic clothing: How does it look?
Morris Levin is an alumnus of Mitchell & Ness Nostalgia Co. between 1993 and 2006 and edited MLB Game Worn Jerseys of the Double Knit Era. He is a proud booster of the Athletic Base Ball Club of Philadelphia and supportive of efforts in West Philadelphia to honor the legacy of the Philadelphia Stars.
Thanks for that wonderful article, Morris. On Fridays during Paul’s sabbatical, Morris will be treating us to an interesting look at a variety of subjects.
Benchies from the Beginning
By Rick Pearson
For nearly three years, “Benchies” has been appearing most weekends at Uni Watch. While Bench Coach Phil fills in for Paul Monday through Friday during August, we present a retrospective. New strips will continue to appear on weekends. For further background, here’s the “Benchies” backstory and bios on the regular Boys of “Benchies.” Enjoy.
And here is the full-size version.
Uni Watch News Ticker (compiled by John Ekdahl): Gatorade’s 2011 Athlete of the Year is sporting some fine-lookin’ stirrups (Paul). … Eli Whiteside had a major league rip in his pants last night (Jeff F.). … Despite the best effort of fans, the Red Wings’ Mike Commodore will wear No. 22 instead of No. 64 (Mike McLaughlin). … Here’s a look at Wigan Athletic’s 2011/2012 jersey (George Chilvers). … Can anyone remember why Dwight Gooden was wearing number 64 on this Sports Illustrated cover? (Krvanch) … Oklahoma State’s new uniform promo shots are out. And of course, here is the official uniform combo creator (Brady Vardeman). … Polk State is rebranding themselves as the Eagles (Wayne Koehler). … Here’s a shot of that 1974 Red Sox cap in action (Thomas Huppé). … Here’s a great old photograph of Michigan’s winged leather helmet and no face mask (Greg Dooley). … From Scott Davis: “A friend of mine was recently filming a commercial for the Patriots tenth anniversary of their first Super Bowl win, in which he played a Patriots player in full attire. Because this was a commercial for the Patriots, and not for the NFL or Reebok, there was no branding on the uni except for the Patriots wordmark and the Flying Elvis.” … From Teebz: “The St. John’s AHL team will announces its name and unveil its logo at Mile One Centre, tomorrow morning (July 29) at 11 NT (9:30 ET).” … Looks like new Giant Carlos Beltran was wearing his NY Mets cleats last evening in Philadelphia (LI Phil “The Thrill” Hecken) … Bruce Bochy gave up his #15 uni number to Carlos Beltran after the Giants acquired him. Here’s Beltran discussing it. Beltran brought his old Mets bat (check out the knob) and his cleats to Philly (Bryan Heaton). … “Safeco vendors to wear peanut-shaped patch in honor of Rick Kaminski” (Tyler Keefe) Here’s a write-up on the man being honored (John Doodigian).
And that’s all for this week, folks. I appreciate all your great feedback.
Special thanks to Morris for another “Fridays with Morris,” and Mike Styczen for his great post on panel caps — really made for some great discussion in the comments (for those who read & post there). And a huge thanks to John Ekdahl, who’s been a tremendous help with the ticker these past three weeks, and for keeping me sane in the wee hours of the evening/morning. He’ll be taking you through the weekend, and I’ll catch you guys on Monday. Peace! — Phil
“I hope Boise State starts wearing mono-orange and still wins all of their home games. That’s just a BS ruling. If you can wear mono-green on a grass field, you should be able to wear mono-blue on a blue field.” — “The Jeff” Provo