Sikh Basketball Players Face Choice: Take Off Turbans or Don’t Play
FIBA, the International Basketball Association, is under fire for not allowing Sikh players from India wear their turbans while competing in the Asia Cup.
Update 9/18/14: FIBA’s central board met over the weekend and voted to ease the regulations on religious headgear. Players will now be allowed to cover their heads with clothing such as hijabs and turbans on a trial basis. Ibrahim Hooper, National Communications Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations approved of the change saying, “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.” The central board will monitor the rule over the next two years and determine whether or not to make the rule permanent after the Olympics in 2016.
Supporters of Team India Basketball have been disappointed by the decision by FIBA, the International Basketball Association, to disallow members of their team to play basketball while wearing their turbans.
In sports, or any competitive event, following rules is incredibly important, and no member of any serious sports team would want to break the rules. However, FIBA’s Official Basketball Rules state that: “Players shall not wear equipment (objects) that may cause injury to other players.” The rule continues, listing turbans and hijabs in particular. Leading up to their game against Japan in the Asia Cup tournament in China, Team India had already consulted with officials from FIBA and were told that the turbans would be acceptable. By the time they actually arrived to play, however, that decision had been overturned.
Turbans in the Sikh Faith
Within the Sikh religion, it is very important that an individual does not cut his or her hair. Many Sikhs will also wear a turban, to keep their hair in its totally natural state. It is something that some Sikhs do, and some do not, but their choice is a key part of their belief system. Two members of Team India wear turbans and had to choose between playing or removing their turbans because they were told they were not allowed to wear their turbans while they played.
International Reaction to FIBA’s Ruling
The international reaction to this ruling has been extreme. Many around the world have demanded that the rules are re-examined due to their discriminatory nature. Others have suggested that instead of being outright discrimination, the problem is more about a lack of understanding and ignorance. Sikh bodies in India, on the other hand, have termed the decision “a barbaric and inhuman act.” However, what many people consider to be the worst offense is that the two basketball players were forced to remove their turbans in order to play, which they both said felt very uncomfortable.
It’s All About the Game
Amritpal Singh and Amjyot Singh, the two players affected by the decision, are both prominent members of the team but could not start in the game against Japan because they were forced to unravel their turbans and tie their hair with bands before playing. Throughout the game, both were visibly flustered and uncomfortable. Although the headgear situation is likely not solely to blame, India ended up losing that game and finished 7th place overall.
International Basketball Association to Continue Investigating
The FIBA Central Board met in Seville at the end of August to discuss a variety of topics, including their rulings on religious headgear. Despite protests set up by the Kalgidhar Society, an online petition on Change.org which garnered over 53,000 signatures, and a social media campaign called #LetSikhsPlay, the meeting remained inconclusive in regards to a solution. Despite not approving a ruling, the Central Board agreed to continue investigations into the matter.