The International Basketball Federation’s decision to allow players to wear headgear, is being praised by Indian-Americans as well as U.S. lawmakers who have for years pressured the body to do so. Basketball’s international governing body has approved a new rule that will allow players to wear headgear that complies with their religious faith. The Switzerland-based body, known as FIBA, says the rule will take effect in games from on Oct. 1.
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 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.
The vote ends a ban that was put in place 20 years ago for safety reasons. FIBA introduced a two-year testing phase in 2014 for headgears before making the vote to lift the ban. “I think we came out in a good place, at the right place,” said USA Basketball CEO Jim Tooley, who is on the FIBA executive committee, in an Associated Press report. “I think it’s a good step for FIBA to put this issue kind of behind it and go from there.”
The new rule, which will take effect at the start of October, requires headgear to be black, white or the same dominant color as the uniform for all players. It cannot cover any part of the face, have no opening or closing elements around the face and/or neck, and have no parts that extrude from its surface, according to the AP report.