For years, an official ban on headgear has stood in the way of hijab-wearing basketball players pursuing a professional career. But, the struggle will soon be over.
International Basketball Federation (FIBA), the world governing body for basketball, has finally decided to lift the ban on headgear, including religious headpieces like the hijab.
The long-awaited decision was approved by FIBA's mid-term congress on Thursday and will come into effect in October 2017.
"The new rule comes as a result of the fact that traditional dress codes in some countries - which called for the head and/or entire body being covered - were incompatible with FIBA's previous headgear rule," FIBA wrote in a statement.
FIBA's current regulations state that “players shall not wear equipment (objects) that may cause injury to other players”. This safety concern included headgear and thus had the biggest impact on hijab-wearing Muslim athletes, who wear the headscarf as part of their faith.
On Wednesday, FIBA's central board approved a proposal to amend the problematic article. A new rule allowing players to wear headgear was officially ratified on Thursday with a unanimous vote.
"It came up in our board meeting and everyone supported making the change," USA Basketball CEO Jim Tooley said, according to Al-Jazeera.
According to FIBA's statement, the new rule "was developed in a way that minimizes the risk of injuries as well as preserve consistency of the color of the uniform".
The rule lists certain conditions upon which headgear is allowed in professional basketball games. It stipulates that the headgear must not cover any part of the face (eyes, nose, lips...), pose any danger on players, nor have parts extruding from its surface.
The decision is the fruit of a series of petitions and social media campaigns led by hijab-wearing basketball players who have spoken out against the ban, accusing FIBA of undermining religious diversity and invading personal freedom.
The ban has also drawn backlash from other religious groups, especially after Sikh Indian players were forced to remove their turbans at the FIBA Asia Cup in 2014.
The movement saw its first major win in 2014, after FIBA received a petition launched by Indira Kaljo, a Bosnian-born American basketball player who wears the hijab.
In light of the petition, FIBA initiated a revision process of its headgear rule in September 2014 and granted exceptions at a national level as part of a two-year testing period.
Since then, Kajlo and several other Muslim basketball players have been pushing forward for the ban to be officially lifted.
Earlier this year, Twitter erupted with the hashtags #LetThemPlay and #FIBAAllowHijab, calling on the federation to amend its regulations. The social media campaign also saw many athletes share stories about being forced to stop practicing their favorite sport due to the ban on headscarves.
In March, a union of professional athletes wrote to FIBA on behalf of eight national basketball player associations, calling out the hijab ban's "discriminatory impact".
By clearing the way for players to compete professionally while wearing religious headpieces, FIBA has followed suit with several international federations that have amended their regulations for the same purpose.
Sports federations have long banned headwear in official competitions, deeming it “unsafe”. Modest attire was not allowed in professional weightlifting competitions until 2011 and beach volleyball until 2012. Meanwhile, the international football federation lifted its ban on head covers in 2014.
Since then, hijab-wearing athletes have asserted their place in the sports world by competing at a professional level and winning big at international competitions.
These names include Kimia Alizadeh Zenoorin, the first Iranian woman to ever win an Olympic medal, Ibtihaj Muhammed, the first veiled athlete to represent the U.S. at the Olympics, as well as Egyptian Hedaya Malak, the first Arab woman to win an Olympic medal in taekwondo.