International basketball federation (Fiba) on Wednesday said players would be allowed to wear religious head coverings such as the turban or hijab on a trial basis in some competitions.
Fiba’s central board met over the weekend at the men’s world cup and voted to allow a two-year testing phase that would let players wear head coverings.
Previous Fiba rules allowed a player to wear only a 5-centimetre headband to control hair and sweat. This drew objections that the group was discriminating against Muslim and Sikh players, who covered their head for religious reasons.
A US-based Sikh advocacy group has asked Fiba to end its ban on religious head coverings immediately and permanently.
“Justice delayed is justice denied,” said Sikh Coalition executive director Sapreet Kaur.
"Fiba is telling religious minorities that their human rights will be protected on a part-time basis. This is unacceptable. People are entitled to full-time protection of their human rights, including the right to practice their religion. Fiba is just adding insult to injury,” said Kaur.
According to Fiba’s announcement, religious accommodations still cannot be granted for international matches.
Instead, Fiba will wait until 2015 to decide whether to allow religious exceptions for matches at the “lowest official international level” and wait further until 2016 to make a permanent decision about religious accommodations.
In the meantime, Fiba can still force Indian Sikh athletes to remove their turbans for matches outside India, Sikh Coalition said.
Sikh Coalition is now asking its supporters to continue posting protest videos using the hashtags #CallFoulonFIBA and #LetSikhsPlay.
BFI hails move
Welcoming the Fiba’s move to allow Sikh players to wear head coverings for a two-year test period, the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) on Wednesday expressed confidence that the temporary ruling would soon become permanent.
Though many Sikh organisations said the latest ruling “fell short” of expectations, the BFI said the international body’s intentions were in the right place.
“The newly-elected board of Fiba addressed this issue in its first meeting and that is a signal that the officials are looking to help out Sikh, Muslim and orthodox Jew players, who are required to cover their head while playing the game,” said BFI joint secretary Ashok Rangeen.
Indian Olympic Association (IOA) vice-president Tarlochan Singh also welcomed the development.
“I am sure that Fiba will allow Sikhs to wear turbans and dastaars even after the testing period,” said Tarlochan.