For years, members of Congress have looked into complaints that turban-wearing Sikhs have been the targets of unfair screening practices by the Transportation Security Administration.
Now their concerns include the treatment of Sikhs by international basketball referees as well.
The International Basketball Federation this week delayed a decision on whether to end a policy against Sikh basketball players who wear turbans, sparking the outrage of a top House Democrat and Congress’s only Indian-American member.
“Every day FIBA delays is another day that Sikhs can’t play,” said Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Joseph Crowley of New York and Rep. Ami Bera of California in a joint statement. The two lawmakers call the policy “outdated, discriminatory, and totally inconsistent with the ideals of team sports.”
The 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup gets underway on Saturday, but the federation’s central board already met in Seville, Spain, on Wednesday afternoon for the last time in its 2010-14 term. On its agenda was to be the review of the federation’s official rule””article 4.4.2””which reads, “Players shall not wear equipment (objects) that may cause injury to other players.”
This controversy has centered, specifically, on the wearing of turbans. But FIBA says it is not religiously motivated, and the rule is also interpreted to be a ban at international games on such things as Muslim headscarfs worn by women players.
At the same time, the rule does make an exception: narrow headbands to allow for sweat and hair to be held back, perhaps best known by the type routinely worn by American superstar LeBron James.
Demands erupted for FIBA to update its policy against turbans after a July incident at the Asia cup before a game between India and Japan.
Two of India’s top players, both Sikhs, were told they were breaking federation rules by wearing their turbans and could not step onto the court unless they took them off. Both players removed their turbans, tied their hair back, and played.
The incident has prompted wide criticism of FIBA’s policy and sparked a social-media campaign using the hash tag #LetSikhsPlay. And on Aug. 19, 20 members of Congress””led by Crowley and Bera””chimed in by writing a letter to FIBA president Yvan Mainini, urging him to “carefully re-examine the existing policy with respect to Sikh turbans and support a change when FIBA’s central board next meets.”
Their letter states, “There is no evidence showing that a turban has been dangerous during basketball games or other popular sports events.” It also says that the basketball court “is the perfect venue to showcase the diversity of our world and the ways in which sports brings people together.”
The letter pointed out that the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) recently changed its policies to permit Sikhs to wear turbans while playing soccer.
On Thursday, after FIBA’s central board postponed any action on the headgear rule, Crowley and Bera said that “allowing Sikhs to play while wearing their turban is a no-brainer.”
“We urge the board to stop delaying and let Sikhs play,” they said.