Connect with us


U.S. lawmakers aim to end “discriminatory” policy against Sikh basketball players over turbans


Darsh Singh
Darsh Singh

Co-captain for Trinity University from 2004 to 2008, Darsh Singh was the first turbaned Indian American to play NCAA basketball. Since the NCAA does not allow players to wear headgear, Singh had to petition to continue to wear his turban, a symbol of Sikh faith, during games. (Courtesy: Lakhpreet Kaur)

WASHINGTON (Diya TV) — A bipartisan group of more than 40 U.S. lawmakers have issued an appeal to the International Basketball Federation to bring an end to what they refer to as an “outdated and discriminatory” policy against Sikh players over turbans.

“Sikhs participate in a wide variety of sports around the globe, and there has never been a single instance of someone being harmed or injured by a turban, or of a turban interfering with the sport,” Congressmen said in a letter to Horacio Muratori, President of the Federation Internationale de Basketball (FIBA) or International Basketball Federation.

Spearheaded by Congressman Joe Crowley, who also serves as the Vice Chair of the Democratic Caucus, and California Congressman Ami Bera, the only Indian-American member of the House of Representatives, the letter sent Tuesday was signed by over 40 lawmakers just ahead of an anticipated decision from the international body.

“Every day that FIBA has delayed this decision is another day that Sikhs can’t play,” said Crowley and Bera in a joint statement.

“This is a policy that can only be described as outdated, discriminatory, and totally inconsistent with the ideals of team sports, and it is long past time it change. That’s why we have continued to push for action, including with this latest letter, and we thank all those who have raised their voices with us. Our message to FIBA is simple: let them play!”

FIBA’s policy first came to light in 2014 after two Sikh basketball players were told by referees that they must remove their turbans if they were to play in FIBA’s Asia Cup.

The players, who have always taken the court with their religious headwear, were told that they were in direct violation of a FIBA rule that states, “players shall not wear equipment (objects) that may cause injury to other players.”

However, no such evidence has come to light suggesting the wearing of a turban serves as a threat to injury. Further, other sports leagues, such as Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), allow athletes wearing turbans to participate, lawmakers argued in their letter.

Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir made history in 2010 when she became the NCAA’s first female Muslim basketball player who wears an Islamic headscarf. Six years earlier in 2004, Darsh Preet Singh became the NCAA’s first Sikh basketball player to wear a turban in collegiate competitions. His jersey now hangs in the Smithsonian Museum.

“Playing professionally has been my goal for as long as I can remember,” Abdul-Qaadir said in her petition on urging FIBA to change its regulations. Fellow petitioner Indira Kaljo, who played professionally for two years in Europe before she decided to start wearing hijab, told Bustle in August: “We are trying to show the world that regardless of our ethnicity or religious background, we are women that want to be able to make a decision for ourselves.”

In 2014, the U.S. Olympic Committee and the Council on American-Islamic Relations both pressured FIBA on behalf of Abdul-Qaadir and other female Muslim athletes to modify their policy and allow them to compete.That same year, at the request of the Sikh Coalition, members of Congress wrote a letter to FIBA’s president explaining that turbans are an important article of faith for Sikh players, and urged the federation to end its discriminatory policy.

A further display of the movement was put on display on the world’s biggest stage — during the Rio Olympic Games, Team USA Fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad made history in August by becoming the first U.S. Olympian to compete wearing hijab. She ended up with a bronze medal.

Sikh Coalition Senior Religion Fellow, Simran Jeet Singh, responded with great gratitude to their efforts in an email to Diya TV.

“We are grateful to our congressional leaders who have taken a stand against this discriminatory policy and called on FIBA to let people of all backgrounds play, no matter how they look or what they believe,” Singh wrote. “Leaders like Congressman Crowley and Congressman Bera are showing this country — and the world — what it means to be an ally for those who are experiencing injustice. We are deeply thankful for their support and hope others will take notice and be inspired to speak up against FIBA’s discriminatory ban.”



More from Diya TV