FIBA's central board met over the weekend at the men's world cup and voted to allow a two-year testing phase that would let players wear head coverings.
Previous FIBA rules only allowed a player to wear a 5-centimetre headband to control hair and sweat. That drew objections that the group was discriminating against Muslim and Sikh players, who wear head coverings for religious reasons.
"We welcome this policy change by FIBA because it allows Muslims, Sikhs and others who wear religious head coverings to take part in the sport that they love while maintaining their beliefs," said the Council on American-Islamic Relations National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper. "FIBA should be congratulated for responding positively to all those who sought reasonable religious accommodation for athletes of all faiths."
Indira Kaljo, a Bosnian-American Muslim who played college basketball at Tulane, was proud when she heard the news. She called it an "amazing first step."
Kaljo said she didn't wear a hijab in college or while playing professionally in Ireland, but after deciding to adhere more closely to her faith, she started to last year. She wasn't able to play overseas because of the decision. She played with the head covering on in an American summer league and didn't want to return to Europe if she wasn't allowed to wear it.
"I would love to go back and play in Bosnia now or some other country," she said.
During the trial, a national federation must petition FIBA to allow players to wear the head coverings. Once approved, the federation will have to submit follow-up reports twice a year. FIBA also said it will allow players to wear head coverings in its 3-on-3 competitions unless it presents a direct threat to the safety of players on the court.
The central board will evaluate the rule again in 2015 and determine whether testing at the lowest official international level should begin next summer. A full review will be done in 2016 on whether it will be a permanent rule change after the 2016 Olympics.
"It's a start and the right move," said Val Ackerman, a former WNBA president and proponent of the move who served on FIBA's board from 2006 to this past August. "My read from being on the board is that there are places in the world where conforming to cultural dress norms is a precondition for being able to play. So if this is what it takes to open up opportunities for women to play the sport of basketball in those countries, it's a huge plus."
In 2012, football's governing body FIFA changed its rules to allow female Muslim players to wear head scarves, after a campaign by executive committee member Prince Ali bin Al-Hussein of Jordan.
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