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It seems a bit strange that my first post on “Help! Help! I’m Being Repressed!” should be positive (in a sense).

Football (soccer) has plenty of racism issues on the men’s side, and the women’s side is no different. Instead of incidents of overt racism, however, women’s football is a bit more subtle. In 2007, FIFA banned the hijab from international play, regarding it as a choking hazard. It is this regulation that banned Iran’s national team from going to the London Olympics this summer. Naturally there’s been a huge controversy as a result, from supporters of the rule, to vocal dissent who understand it as a thinly veiled Islamophobia.

Certainly, the choking hazard argument has merit, but the Iranian national team already solved that problem beforehand by making specially designed headscarves secured with velcro instead of pins. Ta-da! Choking hazard problem gone, and yet it took FIFA until 2012 to lift the ban.

However, this is totally a reason to celebrate! And then sit and wait for mainstream feminists to rain on the parade by arguing that this is just giving in to an oppressive cultural symbol. This argument reeks of white exceptionalism, that only our way is the right way. It completely discredits women for choosing to wear hijab, sometimes hinting, most times saying explicitly that women who wear hijab don’t know any better.*

Regardless of whether or not anyone actually agrees with that idea (insulting as it is to hijabis), it is undeniable that this ban lift is good for women. In the very least that it will allow more women to play football. This gives hijabi cultures more leverage to develop their women’s football programs and thus, the potential to compete internationally. As we’ve seen from the Women’s World Cup 2011, people care about international women’s football.

Women’s football has slowly and gradually become more popular and more recognized since 1999, particularly in the US. USA’s quality, and Western Europe’s quality had been uncontested until last summer. Japan is THE FIRST non-European to win the Cup, but it won’t be the last. We’ve seen, I argue, faster and more exponential growth in quality from women’s football than we have seen from men’s. This past summer was the first I saw where it wasn’t immediately clear who would win. It was more interesting, more passionate, more suspenseful than any men’s World Cup tournament I have ever watched. And I am willing to bet money that now that women can wear the specially-designed hijab, we will see another jump in quality and in international tournament participation.

*/ more on WOC feminism another time