By Nick Butler at the Main Press Centre in Incheon

Qatar's women's basketball team were banned from playing wearing a hijab ©AFP/Getty ImagesQatar's female basketball team forfeited their opening match at the Asian Games here this afternoon after being refused permission to wear the hijab, in what they claimed was a stand against a "discriminatory policy" against Muslim women.


The players claim that before the match they were told they would not be allowed to wear the hijab - the Islamic veil covering the body from the head to the chest - only to be told to remove it shortly before their preliminary stage encounter with Mongolia.

They are "unlikely" to take to the court for their next match against Nepal tomorrow, with further encounters also scheduled with Kazakhstan and Hong Kong over the following two days.

With the slogan for the Games being "Diversity Shines Here", Qatari player Amal Mohamed A Mohamed insisted they had been told they would be able to wear the hijab before arriving, as athletes have done in many other events, including members of the Iranian rowing team. 

An Incheon 2014 spokesperson, however, insisted there was no alternative to a forfeit, because "the rule that the players broke is International Basketball Federation rule 4.4.2, which talks about uniforms and what players can wear".

The spokesperson added: "The technical official asked them to remove the scarf and they refused, so the game was forfeited by Qatar."

Iranian rowers won a bronze medal wearing hijabs this morning ©AFP/Getty ImagesIranian rowers won a bronze medal wearing hijabs this morning ©AFP/Getty Images







The row comes at a time when the wearing of the hijab is a divisive issue across the sports world, with many sports taking alternative approaches but most facing a backlog of opposition.

In April, football governing body FIFA lifted a ban after a longstanding campaign led by Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein of Jordan, stretching back to 2010 after the Iranian women's football team were banned from wearing the hijab at the Summer Youth Olympic Games in Singapore. 

But, although Qatar claimed to have played tournaments wearing hijabs without complaint in China and Indonesia, basketball has yet to officially modify its approach, although discussions are underway to do so.

At a FIBA Central Board meeting earlier this month, it was decided to begin a two-year testing period regarding rules about uniform, where teams will be able to wear such clothing in certain tournaments, as well as do so at national level events, but only when they have obtained prior permission.

While this test-period will stretch to certain international 3x3 basketball competitions, it is not being implemented here at the Asian Games.

It is claimed that the hijab is possible safety risk, either to the players themselves or the opposing team.

Khalil al-Jabir, Qatar's Chef de Mission at Incheon 2014, has said the team are "not likely to play basketball" iin their remaining matches if the ban is not relaxed. 

"We were expecting our players to play with the hijab, that's why we came here," he told Al Jazeera. 

"Nobody told us that it will not be allowed and we are still waiting for clarifications.''

Contact the writer of this story at nick.butler@insidethegames.biz


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