In a welcome move, the International Boxing Association (AIBA) on Monday, says it has approved female competitors to wear hijabs in international events “should they want to due to religious reasons.”
The AIBA Executive Committee approved a key change in the uniform rules, including the boxers to wear their respective national colours on their shorts and vests if it complies with the official guidelines.
The new rule of allowing to wear hijabs and full body form-fitting uniforms for religious reasons highlights AIBA’s commitment to gender equity and religious tolerance.
The concern over hijab remained a stumbling block in boxing for a considerable time with female Muslim competitors protesting the rule which prohibited wearing hijabs in the ring. Previously, the boxing association objected to the material of hijab head coverings “which was not designed to fit the body and had the potential to come off and interfere in the competition.”
The new athlete clothing offers new uniforms that do not compromise the competition and therefore the health of the boxers, which has always been the priority for AIBA.
“AIBA and the sport of boxing have always been at the front of the spirit of Olympism, by accepting any race, colour, ethnicity, religion, gender, etc, since the beginning of the sport,” says AIBA.
The restriction on performing in hijab has often caused a stir in many sports. There have been several instances where Muslim women who choose to wear the traditional head covering, have been banned, forcing some athletes to choose between honouring their faith and not playing their respective sport, or removing it in order to compete. The regulations under different sports federations though do not specifically ban the hijab, however, the general language in which headgear is banned inadvertently prohibits hijab during competitions, which also affects Sikh and Jewish athletes who choose to observe their faith by covering their heads.
Indonesian judo player Miftahul Jannah was banned from the Asian Para Games last October after she refused to remove her hijab. The controversial episode inflamed a public uproar with many fans accusing judo officials of discrimination.
At the 2016 Rio Games, US fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad became the first Muslim American woman to wear a hijab while competing at the Olympics. She tried her best to divert the focus on her religion or what she wears while still competing on a world-class level. Muhammad, in fact, showed grace and humility and made history along the way by becoming the first Muslim-American to stand on a podium at the Olympics, winning a bronze.
A French feminist group the International League for Women’s Rights recently caused a stir by claiming the hijab and other items of Islamic clothing should be banned during the 2024 Olympics and Paralympic Games in Paris. The group called on the Organising Committee to bar the use of the garments during the event to ensure female Muslim athletes can compete free from religious restrictions.
Endorsing hijab by AIBA, however, comes as positive news for Iran’s boxing community and paves the way for establishing women’s boxing in the country.