The International Basketball Federation’s decision to allow players to wear headgear, is being praised by Indian-Americans of the Sikh faith as well as U.S. lawmakers who have for years pressured the body to do so.
The federation announced May 4, in Hong Kong, that the Federation of International Basketball Associations (FIBA) in their first-ever Mid-Term Congress, unanimously ratified the FIBA Central Board’s decision for a new rule that will allow players to wear headgear. Representatives from 139 National Federations attended that congress, according to a press release.
The organization laid down certain rules for the headgear, saying the guidelines were developed to minimize the risk of injuries as well as preserve consistency of the color of the uniform. It will come into effect as of 1 October this year.
The provisions of the new rule mean that headgear is allowed when:
– it is black or white, or of the same dominant color as that of the uniform;
– it is one same color for all players on the team (as all accessories);
– it does not cover any part of the face entirely or partially (eyes, nose, lips etc.);
– it is not dangerous to the player wearing it and/or to other players;
– it has no opening/closing elements around the face and/or neck;
– it has no parts extruding from its surface.
The pressure built up when two Sikh players were told by referees that they must remove their turbans if they were to play in FIBA’s Asia Cup in 2014. Following the Asia Cup incident, Congressmen Joe Crowley, D-N.Y., and Ami Bera, D-California, led multiple letters signed by dozens of Members of Congress urging FIBA’s board to end its discriminatory policy against players who wear turbans.
The federation began the process of review and revision of the rules with an ultimate eye toward a final decision after the 2016 Olympics.
“The decision from the International Basketball Federation to allow Sikhs and other players to wear articles of religious faith while competing is welcome news,” Bera and Crowley said in a joint statement following the latest FIBA decision. An aide to Congressman Crowley told News India Times the lawmaker worked “very closely” with numerous organizations to get this ruling from FIBA. “We are very thankful to the Sikh community in the U.S. for working with us to make this happen,” the aide said.
In September, more than 40 U.S. lawmakers, led by Bera and Crowley, sent yet another letter to FIBA, reiterating their demand for a change in policy.
Sikhs in the U.S., including the Sikh Coalition, a U.S. based advocacy organization, have run a concerted campaign to change the rules that required them to remove their turbans in international competitions. In addition to Sikhs, changes to FIBA’s policy will also allow hijabs or other religious headgear to be worn by players.
The Sikh Coalition called it a “game changer.”
“FIBA is sending a very clear message to the rest of the world that diversity and tolerance matter in sport,” said Sikh Coalition Senior Religion Fellow Simran Jeet Singh is quoted saying in a press release. “If implemented appropriately, ending this discriminatory policy opens the door for millions of young people to practice their faith and pursue their dreams,” Singh added.
“There is zero conflict between my faith and my ability to play basketball,” Darsh Preet Singh, the first turbaned Sikh basketball player in the NCAA, is quoted saying in the release. “I am thrilled about FIBA’s decision, which will allow athletes across the world to pursue their dreams without compromising their faith.”