Lawmakers Blast International Basketball’s Ban on Turbans

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WINSTON-SALEM, NC - OCTOBER 01: Lebron James, #6 of the Miami Heat, performs a dunk during the CP3 All-Star pickup game at the Winston-Salem State University - C.E. Gaines Center on October 1, 2011 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. 
National Journal
Billy House
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Billy House
Aug. 28, 2014, 11:02 a.m.

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.

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