Prince Ali of Jordan is the vice president of FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football which-means-soccer-to-you-Americans Association), and Prince Ali says that women football/soccer players wearing hijabs can still bend it like Beckham.
Actually, he didn’t say exactly that.
What the prince did say was ”I think that the hijab will not hinder the participation of Muslim women in the Olympic Games.” He also stated that his sister, Princess Haya, wore a head scarf while putting him in an unbreakable headlock during a fight over the television remote.
No, he didn’t say the part about Princess Haya, either. Although the princess did compete in riding events at the 2002 Olympic games in Sydney. In a hijab.
And here is the lovely 17 -year-old Zahra Lari, the first international figure skater to wear a hijab in competition.
Which actually looks so much more practical and less frustrating than the bun I need to staple to my own figure skating daughter’s head. In fact, I wonder if any competitors lodged a complaint that Lari’s aerodynamic head covering gave her the advantage of extra air-time during her axel. Especially since it’s not blinged out with ten pounds of Swarovski crystals like most other costume pieces.
But back to soccer.
Last July, the Iranian women’s team was ousted from an Olympic qualifying match because they entered the field wearing head scarves. FIFA’s rules don’t allow the hijab because of the piece of fabric that extends below and around the neck. The reason? Choking hazard on the field.
Okay. I suppose. But as a soccer mom myself sitting though umpteen games and practices—watching children ages 5 to 10 at both recreational and travel level (i.e. you have to try out to get on the team and are a bit more of a bad ass when it comes to wanting to play hard to win)—as well as cheering on plenty of sandlot no-holds-barred pick-up games between teenagers and adults acting like teenagers, I gotta say, I’m not seeing it. I’ve seen shoving and tripping and yelling. I’ve seen elbows thrown and heads colliding and weekend warriors blowing out their ACLs and having to explain the injury to their boss on Monday. I’ve seen twirling in the field with daisies and running to the sidelines because you peed your pants in excitement after getting a goal.
I haven’t seen much grabbing shirt collars and accidentally or accidentally-intentionally choking your opponent. I’m sure it happens. Somewhere. When jerks are playing. And I’m no textile physicist, but it would seem to me that the risk of being choked to death by a hijab while playing soccer would rank somewhere far below having to relearn to walk and talk because you smacked heads with another kid – or the ground – and were then sent back to play the rest of the game with a slow brain bleed.
Which actually has happened in youth soccer. More than once.
My only personal experience with a FIFA rule that I thought was incredibly head-scratching was during a game between nine-year-old girls. A young player on our team fell, hit the ground hard, and didn’t get up. Some of the girls on both teams began to “take a knee” – kneel on the field – as they were taught to do when an injury happens. The referee tossed a cursory look at the player still down…and then made the decision to continue play. Which, according to FIFA, is the ref’s call, backing up his decision with the reminder that FIFA rules are standing and unbendable, no matter whether it’s a game between 60-pound girls or adult professional men with lots of body hair and gigantic muscles.
“She could have been faking the injury to give her team the advantage,” was the explanation.
Which seems a little hardass to me.
But what do I know? Other than the fact that female soccer players are tough cookies who put up with a lot of body crushing. Head injuries for women high school soccer players are second only to those sustained during high school football (the kind with the wobbly-shaped ball.) According to Michael Sokolove’s book Warrior Girls, the incidence of knee injuries for female soccer players is eight times higher than for men. So a headscarf is the tipping point?
My fan-based observation is that women play all out, running hard, sometimes getting a shoulder in when the ref isn’t looking, but most of all, wanting to use their skills to win fair and square against a team they respect as athletic equals.
What the hell does a hijab have to do with any of this?