September 12, 2014

The "All Turban" basketball game & hundreds of peaceful protests against FIBA's "No Headgear" rule

Remember when the International Basketball Association - FIBA - freaked out and barred a couple of Sikh Indian basketball players from playing with their turbans on at the FIBA Asia Cup in July? Remember when that happened again a month later at the U18 FIBA Asia Championship in Qatar and India's Anmol Singh had to remove his turban before playing in international basketball games? Remember how they unnecessarily delayed their decision on the turban/headgear bans? While the rest of the world seems to be fine with recognizing the traditional Sikh headgear as a part of the community's culture, FIBA is somehow still stuck considering the harmless - yet important - piece of cloth a 'threat'.

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In that case, FIBA officials would've found plenty to feel 'threatened' about in Sirmore a couple of days ago.

In an awesome display of the power of the peaceful protest against FIBA, the Kalgidhar Society on Wednesday, September 10 hosted an "All Turban" basketball game at their Akal Academy in Sirmore (Himachal Pradesh). Special guest at the game was Anmol Singh - India's under-18 player who was forced by FIBA officials to remove his headgear before getting to play at the U18 FIBA Asia Championship in Doha last month. Students from the academy - all in patkas (turbans) - took part in the game and as the audience with Anmol.

This might be shocking to some FIBA officials, but no players were hurt and no harm was caused despite all the turbans involved.

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The game at Sirmore was the final event in the first phase of Kalgidhar Society's massive pan-North India protest against FIBA: similar protest matches have already been held over the last few days at the society’s 128 other Akal Academies spread across the hinterland of Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.

Apart from approaching FIBA and basketball officials in India, Kalgidhar Society has also filed an online petition against FIBA through on July 26. The petition #LetSikhsPlay has been supported by around 68,000 persons from across the globe so far. Sports legends like Milkha Singh, Bishen Singh Bedi and eminent personalities from music and culture like Daler Mehndi, Yo Yo Honey Singh etc. too have backed the campaign.

Commenting on controversy, Anmol Singh said, “I was shocked by the discriminatory behaviour of FIBA’s officials at Doha. It is a pity that FIBA continues to be adamant despite the global protest. US Congressmen have also pointed out that no such discrimination happens in American football. How can a turban hurt anybody?”

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Kalgidhar Society’s head Baba Iqbal Singh, 89, who was agriculture director of Himachal Pradesh government previously, said, “Rules are meant to conduct games harmoniously not to divide people. If we see the divine in every being, there will be peace and brotherhood which are desperately needed in the modern world. We should be empathetic to the sensitivities and feelings of all. This can put an end to all quarrels, controversies and wars.”

During FIBA's Central Board meeting at Seville on the eve of the Basketball World Cup (August 27), the committee decided to shelf any decision on its controversial 'Headgear' ruling - Article 4.4.2 of FIBA's official basketball rules - that has denied people of Sikh, Muslim, or Jewish cultures from wearing their traditional headgear (like turban, hijab, or yarmulkes). The official FIBA statement read: "On the subject of a review of the basketball rules regarding headgear, because of the importance of the matter, the Central Board decided that it requires further analysis before a final decision is made."

FIBA also elected a new chairman and several new board members at the World Cup. This new board is set to have their first official meeting tomorrow (September 13): they need to treat this matter with the decency and urgency that it deserves.

Hopefully some of these voices and images of protest reach FIBA so they can realize that playing with turbans or hijab is quite normal indeed with no hint of a 'threat'. The only threat they need to erase is from their own prejudiced thought process.

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