When you think of basketball, you probably think of the NBA. And when you think of the NBA, you probably think of LeBron James throwing down ferocious dunks, Steph Curry draining threes from all over the court or, if your b-ball knowledge is determined by pop culture, Michael Jordan helping the Tune Squad beat the Monstars in Space Jam.
Despite many viewing the game as confined to North America and/or live-animation 90s blockbusters, basketball is actually the second most popular team sport on the planet, with both men and women playing in amateur and professional leagues all over the world
Due to its global reach, people of all backgrounds and religions like to shoot hoops. As such, debates about religious headwear, and whether or not it should be permissible during play, have entered the sport. In recent years, the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) has upheld a longstanding ban on players wearing hijabs, turbans and yarmulkes.
But in May this year, they overturned the rule following a popular online campaign. At the beginning of October, the new rules came into effect. It’s great news for the global game. It’s even better for the Leicester Falcons, an all-female, all-Muslim team who formed in responses to FIBA’s rule change.
The team is made up of Muslim women from all over the UK. Many of the team are women who had previously given up on the sport when they were barred from wearing their hijabs in games.
Speaking to Al-Jazeera, Falcons player Raabya Pasha welcomed the change: ‘It’s important because more people will see that Muslim women can play, do play and are willing to play. And even if we are covered up, it doesn’t stop us from playing.’
The rule change was the result of a two year long online campaign. A number of petitions on change.org gathered over 137,000 signatures. Asma Elbadawi, another Falcons player, had a huge role in the social media push to end the ban. It’s little wonder that she’s also the woman who founded the Leicester team. Asma reckons this is the start of a big shift in the world of sport.
‘We might not see it right now, but gradually, in elite sports, we’re going to see more Muslim girls in basketball playing with the hijab, in college basketball for example in America, and in places, where basketball is aired,’ Elbadawi explained.
‘It will make a huge impact because the more people that are seeing women look like them playing, the more impact it will have on the wider community,’ she added.
This rule change will have a significant effect on the visibility of the hijab. When sports fans see that hijabis can ball out on the court, they’ll soon realise that they can succeed in other areas, too.