Before the withdrawal of the Qatari women's team from the Asian Games basketball event due to a ban on headgear during matches, two Sikh players of the Indian men's team faced a similar predicament.
Captain Amritpal Singh and Amjyot Singh had to remove their turbans ('patkas') to play at the Asia Cup in July, when the headgear regulations came into international focus. They decided to get their hair cut ahead of the Asian Games, which meant they didn't have to wear turbans.
The controversial Fiba (international basketball federation) rule that prohibits the use of headgear, hair accessories, and jewellery in international competitions hit the headlines again this week when members of the Qatari women's team refused to remove their 'hijab' for their first match against Mongolia on Wednesday. The Qatari team withdrew from the women's basketball competition a day later, after failing to have the ban overturned.
Players on the Indian men's team opted for an alternative solution.
"We had four Sikh players in the side, with two of them regularly playing all our matches," team official Divya Singh told The Associated Press on Thursday. "But since Amritpal and Amjyot had got their hair cut and did not wear turbans, we did not face any problems regarding the rules."
Sikh men grow their hair as part of their faith and need to cover their heads with a turban. But sportsmen wear a lighter version of the turban, called a 'patka', that covers the head with a thin cloth.
For Amritpal, the decision was not easy. "Of course, it was not a good feeling to get my hair cut for this reason," he told AP. "But then, it had come to a point where I had to take a call. After all, it was a matter of continuing playing basketball or not. What else could I have done?"
The India captain said his parents and relatives were opposed to him breaking with tradition, and it took a lot of convincing on his part before he could get their approval.
"It was natural for them to feel bad because it's a matter of our religion. But I had to make them understand what basketball meant to me and they agreed rather reluctantly," Amritpal said.
The Indian men's team was knocked out in the league phase at the Asian Games with consecutive losses to Iran and the Philippines.
Recently, international basketball's governing body had allowed players to wear religious head coverings, such as hijab or turban, but on a trial basis and only in some competitions.