It took voices of protest from in and outside India, from the Sikh and Muslim communities and from many more who chose to support the right cause, and finally, there seems to be some progress. FIBA - the International Basketball Federation - announced at the first meeting of their newly-elected Central Board that they will be tentatively 'relaxing' their rules banning players donning headgear (such as turbans or hijab) from participating in international basketball games.
FIBA.com's provides more of the news below, with details that show FIBA's steps into the right direction:
In response to the various requests received, the Central Board held in-depth discussions regarding rules about uniforms and decided to put a testing phase into place for the next two years that will consist of:
- Relaxing the current rules regarding headgear in order to enable national federations to request, as of now, exceptions to be applied at the national level within their territory without incurring any sanctions for violation of FIBA's Official Basketball Rules. National Federations wishing to apply for such an exception to the uniform regulations shall submit a detailed request to FIBA. Once approved, they shall submit follow-up reports twice a year to monitor the use of such exceptions.
- The players will be allowed to play in FIBA endorsed 3x3 competitions - both nationally and internationally - wearing headgear without restrictions, unless the latter presents a direct threat to their safety or that of other players on the court. Players wishing to take part in such competitions with headgear must ensure that a detailed request for approval is addressed to FIBA.
- FIBA will communicate with National Federations over the coming weeks on the subject of these request procedures.
The two years will serve as a test period. FIBA, through its competent bodies, will monitor these requests and their implementation from both the technical and sport development perspectives (for example in terms of manufacturing specificities, safety of athletes, look on the field of play and positive development of participation numbers in basketball within the demanding countries).
A first report will be provided to the Central Board in 2015, which will then determine whether tests at the lowest official international level shall be allowed as of next summer. A full review will be done in 2016 to take a decision on whether permanent changes to the Official Basketball Rules shall be made and implemented after the 2016 Olympic Games.
Wading through the intense wordiness above we find the the good news for Sikh, Muslim, Jewish, or players of other communities for whom the headgear is a crucial part of their religion and culture. They will now be allowed to take part in FIBA events with their headgear on just as long as the national federations submit an application asking for this exception beforehand. This rule specifically directs to India and the Basketball Federation of India (BFI): The BFI claimed discrimination when Sikh players of the Indian national team at the FIBA Asia Cup in Wuhan (China) and the U18 FIBA Asia Championship in Doha (Qatar) were not allowed to take part in the games unless they removed their turbans. The onus is now on India and the BFI to be at the top of their game each time and make sure to apply for these uniform exceptions in time and make sure to follow up twice a year (because FIBA doesn't want to make things too easy, do they?) to ensure that our Sikh players don't feel humiliated at the international stage again.
The Sikh America Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF), who share a lot of credit for bringing the turban issue to international attention, recognized FIBA's step forward. "FIBA has taken a step towards change, but this policy alteration will continue to lead to an unequal playing field," said Jasjit Singh, executive director of SALDEF, "We hope that FIBA will soon recognize Sikhs, Muslims and Orthodox Jews can freely play with their respective articles of faith, without process or paperwork and beyond their home countries. We ask all to join us as we tell FIBA to let Sikhs play freely."
Here's my personal guarantee about this issue: over the next two years, the test period will go swimmingly and FIBA will figure out manufacturing specificities etc. as they mentioned above. And soon enough, because we live in a world of large corporations that truly decide morality and culture at the commercial stage, sports-wear brands like Nike and adidas are going to start vying to sponsor athletic turbans, designed specifically for basketball, and coming fully FIBA-approved in their shape/size/design. And this train of thought leads me to believe that if LeBron James or Kobe Bryant had wanted to play in the Olympics with what FIBA had previously described as 'threatening' headgear, Nike would've changed the 'No Headgear' rule years ago.
Anyways, good step forward, FIBA. Hopefully the Indian national teams can put these distractions behind them and focus on taking even bigger steps forward on the basketball court.