Olympics approve Sikh knives, will test hijabs for Muslim soccer women

The International Olympic Committee finds itself in a swirl of controversy for scheduling the London Summer Olympics during Ramadan -- and dithering over whether Muslim women can wear head-coverings

BY: Rob Kerby, Senior Editor

 

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reported just before the Olympics that China had “expelled over one hundred foreign missionaries” as part of “a government-initiated campaign to tighten control on Christian house churches prior to the 2008 Olympics.”

An estimated 150 million Chinese Christians attend such “underground” churches, which are begrudgingly tolerated by the government — which would prefer the faithful attend tightly regulated state-run churches, which prohibit evangelism and bar attendance by children. Just before the 2008 Olympics, ”We’re hearing that police and public security forces are attending house church meetings and monitoring them more closely than before,” said Jerry Dykstra, a spokesman for Open Doors, a group that works closely with Chinese believers. “There are a lot of restrictions in place now on who can travel.” 

The State Department also noted China’s repression of the Falun Gong, a New Age group the central government claimed was attempting to subvert civil order. “Falun Gong practitioners continued to face arrest, detention, and imprisonment, and there have been credible reports of deaths due to torture and abuse,” the report said.

At the 2012 London Olympics, Sikh athletes will be allowed to carry the ceremonial kirpan or three-inch, sheathed scimitar attached to a cloth belt worn under their clothes. However, Olympic soccer officials have declined to allow Sikh players to wear turbans, citing a longstanding ruling that “players and officials shall not display political, religious, commercial or personal messages or slogans in any language or form on their playing or team kits.” All soccer players must wear a shirt, shorts, socks, shin guards and cleats – but traditionally no head coverings.

The Iranian women's team

That rule — and now a decision to experiment with specially designed hijabs — was devastating for the Iranian women’s soccer team, which apparently has been eliminated after it forfeited — which counts as a lost game — when the team showed up in the banned headcover. FIFA has overlooked the long-sleeved shirts and pants, but not the head covering, which it says is a safety issue. Peripheral vision is crucial in soccer and cannot be obstructed by a scarf, which tends to come loose in competitive play. Also, hitting the ball with the head is a key tactic and any protection on the head gives an unfair advantage.

However, the Iranian women are holding onto a shread of hope after FIFA’s International Football Association Board heard a heart-felt appeal last weekend from FIFA Vice President Ali Bin al-Hussein, and agreeed to allow Muslim players to test  over the next four months Dutch-designed headscarves held secure by Velcro.

No announcement has been made on whether their forfeited match with Jordan can be rescheduled under Olympic rules.

Prince Ali’s campaign to lift the ban has received widespread support

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Related Topics: Olympics, Sikh, Muslim, Islam, Iran

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