The controversy surrounding footballer’s attire

The recent news that the Iranian women’s football team are to be banned from competing at the London 2012 Olympics by FIFA should raise questions on what is and what is not acceptable for teams to wear and what are the boundaries in what kind of attire can be worn on the pitch.

Iran were assigned to play Jordan in Amman on Friday 3rd June in a London 2012 Olympic qualifier, but a FIFA organiser called the game off due to their ‘‘hijab’’ style of clothing, as it does not conform to Law 4 – Players’ Equipment, that was laid out by international football’s governing body.

FIFA’s course of action is based on Iran wearing a full-body kit with added headscarf to keep in touch with their religious beliefs. This decision appears to show a lack of consistency on FIFA’s part especially if comments made by Ali Kafashian , head of Iran’s Football Federation, are to be believed. Kafashian, quoted in an Arman newspaper, said, ‘‘the (Iranian) Football Federation had already discussed with FIFA director (Sepp Blatter ) for Iranian women’s participation with full Islamic hijab. We managed to acquire Blatter’s consent on this matter.’’

FIFA have refuted this claim and said that both party’s had agreed in the spring of 2010 that the women’s team were permitted to wearing a cap that covers the head to their hairline, but that would not extend below the ears – in keeping with the Laws of the Game. Maybe it is because of this ‘reassurance’ that Marzieh Akbarabadi , Iran’s official in charge of women’s sports, feels the move is politically motivated.

The FIFA official who inflicted this ban is a Bahraini national and Akbarabadi detects that something else may be on the agenda. He contradicted FIFA’s assertion and said that the team’s kit was ‘‘of the same style that FIFA had approved,’’ but senses that, because of a recent crackdown on Shiite protesters in Iran by the Sunni rulers of Bahrain , the Bahraini official ‘‘took advantage of an international event.’’ After all the recent fuss over Blatter’s re-election – if you can class it an election – as FIFA President, this is all they need, dealing with an issue that is much more than being about football.

In some ways, FIFA could be seen to be doing Iranian women a favour in not letting them play in attire that comes draped in historic and discriminatory connotations; signs of an oppressive regime. Although, this is not them making a stand against these conditions – not according to what they say anyway. Instead, it is them merely sticking to the book. Many people will find the reasons why most Iranian women have to cover themselves up from head to toe as aberrant, due to religious purposes that are based on prejudice (some people say it is connected with religion whilst others state that it’s a ‘cultural’ thing; one that is patriarchal. It could also be deemed that they are both intertwined).

FIFA could be accused of being hypocritical when it comes to their actions because if they, judging by their actions, can respect the beliefs of the rulers in Qatar , a country that was chosen to host the 2022 World Cup despite it being a land where it is illegal to be homosexual, then surely they can respect the beliefs of the Iranian government? You cannot have one rule for someone then another for someone else when they are both behaving in virtually the same manner.

Whatever the reasons are for sides wishing to compete in a particular form of regalia, should the wish to not wear shorts be stamped upon? As long as the competitors compete in their official team colours does it matter? Does wearing a head scarf that is tied tightly to the head, leaving no room for it to obstruct an opposing player’s view, really affect the game that much? It’s not as if they are wearing a clown’s outfit with giant boots and a nose that would completely disrupt the running of play.

If anything, the team wishing to wear tracksuit bottoms could be adversely affecting themselves, so it’s up to them – they’ll reap what they sow. But at the same time, FIFA , as unlikely as it sounds after the recent allegations that the British sports media have bestowed upon them, may want to see a fair playing field and have nothing that could, despite protests to the contrary, stop a side playing to their full potential i.e. the non-covering of legs for a game that requires lots of running. Most football purists, I imagine, will not even contemplate the thought of football’s ‘dress-code’ being changed for fear of it being turned into a ‘sissy’ sport. There should be a limit to what items of clothing one can participate football matches in, but shall we break with tradition and allow teams to wear items such as tracksuit bottoms, long lycra bottoms or even head scarf’s? It’s very much open to debate.

Other instances of kit rebellion

This is not the first case that an aspect of team clothing has caused problems for all concerned. India ’s national football team qualified for the football World Cup for, as of now, the only time in their history. Although this was only due to the fact that three members of their qualifying group – Burma, Indonesia and the Philippines – dropped out, which left India being declared ‘winners’ of the group. At this time, the Indian national side played barefoot, but as this was against FIFA laws, they were prevented from entering the competition for refusing to wear football boots despite competing ‘bootless’ in the 1948 London Olympics two years earlier.

There have been a couple of instances when the Cameroonian national side and its football body have been held to ransom over their style of kit. In 2002, they unveiled a sleeveless shirt that FIFA were none too pleased about, which led to their sponsors Puma having to add a black sleeve to the vest after being threatened by football’s governing body.

Then in 2004, they, and again, Puma, introduced a one-piece kit whereby the shirts and shorts were stitched together. After being warned beforehand that wearing them in an international game would bring punishment, the Indomitable Lions wore them anyway and incurred a six-point deduction that would come into effect from when their 2006 World Cup qualifying campaign began.

The Cameroon Football Association were also handed an £86,000 fine by FIFA. This was revoked after Puma took Blatter and co to task and both party’s settled out-of-court. Cameroon also had six-points restored after the initial deduction.

There was rigorous debate in the season just gone regarding the ‘snoode’, a form of scarf that was beloved of many players during the winter months. The dispute is likely to be over now as players will be abstained from wearing one in official matches from 1st July 2011.

Give me your thoughts.

Read more of Ricky Murray’s articles at This is Futbol