SPORTS

Asian Olympic body seeks common policy on head coverings to avoid more protests

10/02/2014 10:10 EDT | Updated 12/02/2014 05:59 EST
INCHEON, South Korea - The Olympic Council of Asia is pushing for a common policy on head coverings for all sports to avoid the kind of controversy that overshadowed the Asian Games women's basketball competition when the Qatari team withdrew in protest.

"We've discussed the matter with their world body as well as the Asian body," OCA secretary-general Randhir Singh told The Associated Press. "In fact, we're taking up the matter with sports officials across the board to ensure the matter is sorted out at the earliest."

According to basketball rules, headgear, hair accessories, and jewelry are not allowed to be worn in international competition. Such restrictions were initially designed for the safety of players, but have recently been challenged on cultural and religious grounds.

The rule came into focus at Incheon as the Qatar women refused to play without their Muslim headscarves, missed two games and took an early flight home.

Also, two Sikh players in the Indian team - who had been asked to take off their turbans at this year's Asia Cup - cut their hair short ahead of the games so they did not have to wear turbans.

Sikhs are required to keep long hair and wear a turban according to custom.

Though basketball is very strict with this rule, other sports like badminton, bowling, shooting and even football allow for hijabs and turbans.

"It's an internal federation matter but it's an overall policy which has to be adopted and we cannot discriminate. They're playing every other game in the world so they should not be stopped from this one," he said.

"Personally, I think it is a wrong thing because we should respect the religions of people," added Randhir, himself a Sikh. "It is the hijab for the Muslims on one side and on the other side it's the Sikhs, who have to play without turbans."

Earlier this month, FIBA said it was launching a two-year trial phase allowing some players to wear head coverings. But the Swiss-based FIBA issued a clarifying statement saying it "allows exceptions to be applied only at the national level and the Asian Games is an international event."

FIBA will evaluate the rule again next year and determine whether to allow head coverings at some level of international competition from next summer. A full review in 2016 will decide if it will become a permanent rule change after the Rio Olympics.

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