Soccer is the great global game: the closest thing we have to a connective cultural tissue that binds our species across national and cultural borders. But only in a world so upside down could “the Beautiful Game” be run by an organization as corrupt as FIFA and by a man as rotten to the core as FIFA President Sepp Blatter. Only Sepp Blatter, whose reputation for degeneracy approaches legend, would hire a war criminal like Henry Kissinger to head "a committee of wise persons" aimed at “rooting out corruption” in his organization. And only these two twinning avatars of amorality would use "the Beautiful Game" as an instrument of Islamophobia.
On Sunday, moments before Iran’s women’s team was due to take to the pitch and play in an Olympic qualifier against Jordan, the team was disqualified for wearing their traditional full-body tracksuits and hijabs. Jordan was granted a 3-0-forfeit victory, crushing the lauded Iranian team’s chances to go to the 2012 London Games.
As the Iranian players and officials tearfully objected, they were told that they had violated FIFA rules that state, "Players and officials shall not display political, religious, commercial or personal messages or slogans in any language or form on their playing or team kits." The team was also informed that since 2007 FIFA has held the view that wearing a hijab while playing “could cause choking injuries.”
There are two problems with this argument. The first is that it’s asinine. “Hijab soccer choking deaths” doesn’t exactly send the Google search engine a-humming. But far more problematic is that the team had already received assurances from FIFA that the uniforms were in compliance. They had even had played preliminary rounds without a blip from Blatter.
Iranian women’s soccer director Farideh Shojaei told Reuters TV in an interview, “We made the required corrections and played a match afterwards. We played the next round and were not prevented from doing so, and they didn’t find anything wrong. That meant that there are no obstacles in our path, and that we could participate in the Olympics…. This [uniform] is neither religious, nor political, nor will it lead to harm a player…. and Mr. Sepp Blatter accepted this."
So what is really going on here? First of all, we should dismiss any of FIFA’s concerns about the welfare of the women involved. Blatter is an unreconstructed sexist and without resistance, women’s soccer would look something like the Lingerie Football League. The man who bans the hijab proposed in 2004 that women players wear "hot pants" on the pitch to boost the sport’s popularity. He said that the "tighter shorts" would produce "a more female aesthetic." In addition, for years, human rights organizations have asked Blatter to take a stand and say something about the horrific influx of sex-slave trafficking that accompanies the arrival of the World Cup. Blatter’s cold response, "Prostitution and trafficking of women does not fall within the sphere of responsibility of an international sports federation but in that of the authorities and the lawmakers of any given country.” In other words, he’s not exactly Susan Faludi.