“We want to play basketball wearing our head-covering proudly.”
This particular journey of mine started about two years ago when I decided to start wearing my hijab (head-covering) on a full time basis. My love for my faith grew stronger daily, and I knew I had to fulfill the requirement of adhering to the hijab. However, I did not know that adhering to my faith would cost me the one thing I truly loved doing — playing basketball.
One day, I was professional basketball player pursuing another contract overseas for the 2014-2015 season — only to wake up the following day to news that I could no longer continue my professional aspirations.
Why you may ask?
Well, in 2014, the Federation International Basketball Federation (FIBA) did not allow any head covering that was larger than 5cm to be worn during any games.
I had two options at that time: retire or fight for my rights. I chose the latter.
I started a Change.org petition and united forces with other basketball players fighting for their rights to be able to play with a turban. Together, our stories reached far and wide to gain 70,000 petition signatures. We were supported by the U.S. Olympic Committee and Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
FIBA listened: In August 2014, they approved a two-year provisional period allowing head covering larger than 2cm in games. We were able to show FIBA that people globally support the inclusivity of all basketball players through our efforts!
A lot has happened since that time. I have grown immensely as a person and have been given the opportunity to meet other hijab basketball players around the world who have faced similar discrimination. I learned about their stories and how being banned from playing the sport they love discouraged them on and off the court. I learned that my story mattered to them and inspired them to pursue playing again in their respective country. I grew strength and inspiration from their stories. It kept me going.
When I started thinking about the upcoming August 2016 decision from FIBA, I knew I had to launch some kind of campaign again. I wasn’t sure if I would start another petition or only make a video campaign to bring about awareness of this current situation. After discussing the best way to get the word out about this initiative, I knew the Change.org platform was the best solution.
I really wanted to share the stories of all the female players that I met over the last two years. Their stories mattered to me, so I knew that they would matter to others.
I hoped that by sharing our stories, each of us could show the world that we are here. We are here to stay. We want to play basketball wearing our head-covering proudly. We want all people to be able to represent their faith proudly while playing the sport they love. We want to inspire other young players to pursue their dreams. We want them to feel welcome by FIBA and all those involved. We want to play the game that we all love dearly.
And so, this is how our movement came about. Twelve women from various countries — including USA, United Kingdom, Turkey, Indonesia, Nigeria, Sweden, Saudi Arabia and Germany — have started petitions separately, and we united forces to prove to FIBA that their decision next month should be a definite “yes.” Allow us and every other basketball player, basketball referee, basketball coach to do the thing they love — wearing a head covering.
Thanks to so many you amazing individuals across the world, we have already received 25,000 supporters in about 10 days. We want to continue building that number! With your help, we are sending a truly strong message to FIBA — be inclusive to all players.
I will leave you with this poem I wrote for FIBA:
My life was turned upside down
In June 2014
The moment I read your
Yeah, that one article
The one that instantly
Forced me to become
Retired from the game
The one game that I truly love
Oh dearest FIBA
I still want to be a professional basketball player
But your current article
The rule that states:
Headbands, maximum five (5) cm in width, are allowed
Does not make sense
To any and all players
Who wear headbands bigger than 5 cm in width
Because, to us and to the players playing against us
It doesn’t pose any harm
There are players worldwide
Playing with a full head covering
With absolutely no problem
And so today,
I am asking you
To vote yes in August 2016
Say yes to allow head coverings
Permanently in all levels of competition
Nationally and Internationally
So that each child
Girl or boy
Can play the sport they love
And give them the chance
To run and chase after their dreams
Oh dearest FIBA,
I am asking this of you today,
Always and forever,
Join the movement to end the ban on head-covering in international basketball by signing one of the petitions in the movement. And make sure to follow the movement to receive regular updates from Indira.