UN Special Adviser on Sport Supports Initiative to Allow Safe Headscarf in Football

Geneva, Feb 29, 2012: In the context of recent developments in the football world regarding the issue of female players wearing headscarves while on the field, Wilfried Lemke, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Sport for Development and Peace, has expressed his support for the initiative driven by FIFA Vice-President HRH Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein on behalf of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) to review the Laws of the Game in favour of allowing a safe headscarf (hijab).

This coming Saturday, 3 March 2012, in Surrey, England, the International Football Association Board (IFAB) – football’s ultimate law-making body – will hold their 126th Annual Meeting. On the agenda this year are eight proposals and amendments to the Laws of the Game including “a discussion regarding the Hijab”, pertaining to Law of the Game 4 on The Players’ Equipment, and its interpretation.

On 23 November 2011, FIFA Vice-President representing Asia, HRH Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, was mandated by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Executive Committee to present the headscarf issue to the FIFA Executive Committee meeting in Tokyo on 17 December 2011. Following that presentation, Prince Ali was subsequently invited to present the case at IFAB’s Annual Meeting.

In a letter addressed to FIFA President Joseph F. Blatter, UN Special Adviser Wilfried Lemke expressed his support for the AFC’s initiative and for a vote in favour of the right to wear a safe, Velcro-opening headscarf in FIFA-regulated matches and competitions.

Referring in the letter to the way that sport can effectively contribute to Millennium Development Goal 3 (“Promote gender equality and empower women”) and referring also to Article 1 of the International Charter of Physical Education and Sport (“The practice of physical education and sport is a fundamental right for all”), Mr. Lemke expressed his “wish that the issue can be resolved in a way that respects both the Laws of the Game as well as cultural considerations, while promoting football for all women without discrimination.”

“As the governing body of the world’s most popular sport, I believe FIFA has the responsibility to ensure that everyone has an equal chance to participate in football, without any barriers and regardless of gender, race, ability, age, culture or religious beliefs,” he added, stressing that innovative types of safe and suitable sport headscarves existed and were already used with success in other sports disciplines.

He continued: “Such a harmonization would remove a barrier that can deter women and girls from participating in football […] and would set a positive example. It would send the message that each female player, from the top elite level down to the grassroots, has the freedom to decide whether or not to wear this particular piece of attire while on the field. It would give the opportunity for remarkable female athletes to demonstrate that wearing the headscarf is not an obstacle to excelling in life and sports, and would hence contribute to challenging gender stereotypes and bringing about a change in mentalities.”

On 16-17 February, Mr. Lemke was in Los Angeles, California, where he attended the 5th World Conference on Women and Sport, organized by the International Olympic Committee. In the declaration which was adopted by the participants, it is mentioned that “the promotion of women’s participation in sports activities, management and administration should, and must, serve the wider goal of supporting the international agenda of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.”

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