Former Meteors Basketball player launches campaign for Basketball rule change- to allow wearing the hijab

One of the activities in the Show Racism the Red Card workshops challenges the workshop participants to discuss and come to a consensus as to the names, jobs and nationalities of the people pictured ( one picture, participants usually young people often guess that the woman pictured is a hairdresser, a beautician, model and that she is from Spain or Italy and they guess all kinds of names.In 2012-13, Indira Kaljo was playing at the highest level of Women’s Basketball in the Women’s Superleague with Meteors club in Dublin and started her PHD in Sports Science at UCD and is from Bosnia and lived much of her life in Los Angelas, California.indira kaljo 1Pictured:  Indira Kaljo and Kevin Kilbane at the Show Racism the Red Card Creative Competition awards in April 2013Difficulties integrating into new environmentWhen she spoke at the Show Racism the Red Card Creative Competition awards last year at the AVIVA stadium, she spoke as an adult now with a Californian accent about how as a child she had a different accent she had a hard time being ‘different’ in her new school in Los Angelas.She also did not have the English language and that made it harder to integrate into her new surroundings. This experience from someone playing sport at the highest level in Ireland was a useful one to pass on to the 500 young people present in the room on the day for many of them will have had similar experiences and challenges to integration due to different linguistic and cultural backgrounds. Being bullied for being different probably just compounded the problems her family had as they had fled conflict in Bosnia.Did not know she was MuslimHowever time passed and Indira grew and developed interests, basketball in particular, and went on to college and made new friends. ‘Even then there were still problems though and it was very upsetting because people would say things about Muslims that were just awful and they felt free to say them not realising I was a Muslim’. They didn’t realise she was Muslim because she was not wearing the Hijab and she had a Californian accent.It seems Muslims can’t win either way.  If they wear the Hijab, Burqa or Niqab, they are setting themselves up as targets and if they don’t well people think it is ok to let their racist views be known.   I have thought about this quite a lot and this case brings to the fore the issues at stake and fundamentally, the issue is acceptance and the right to freedom of faith.There are many who see themselves as progressive who support the French and Belgian governments in their bans on the Niqab and Burqa. Some on the ‘progressive left’ see the clothing as a manifestation of a psychological prison incarcerating the woman.  They find common grounds with those on the political right a disbelief that wearing of clothing as an expression of faith can be a choice.Acceptance of MuslimsSince April 2013, Indira has played a season of basketball in Bosnia and spent a month volunteering in Haiti, helping with the aftermath of the earthquake before moving back to LA to progress her career in basketball.  She has also reflected on her faith and decided to start wearing the hijab full-time because she feels it more clearly expresses her beliefs.  However this has caused difficulties in that FIBA, have a ban on ‘headgear’ which includes the Hijab.In response to this, Indira has launched a petition to overturn the ban, which she believes is discriminatory and has the potential to exclude large numbers of women from playing basketball.  Of course, there are some including those who believe themselves to be liberal will say that ‘the rules are the rules’.  Rules are rules to allow the game to be played fairly.  ‘Rules are rules and shouldn’t you just be reasonable and take off your hijab while playing the game’.  Equally the argument goes, why can’ t you just accept that some women will want to wear the hijab full-time including while playing the game.  Furthermore, there is no evidence to suggest that wearing of the hijab is a hindrance to the playing of the game.One of those in the audience at the awards ceremony where Indira spoke about her experiences of racism was former Minister for Justice Alan Shatter TD.  Shatter from a Jewish background spoke of his experiences of racism to the audience said in response to Indira’s call to young people to speak out against racism was ‘you go girl’.  Of course it was a bit cringing for some but he was dead right and the knowledge for the diverse audience in the room who experience racism in their lives, there was reassurance that top stars of Irish sport and politics had experiences of racism but they overcame those experiences and did not give in to the racists.Indira-KaljoDebatesThere is a lot of debate about how ‘oppressive’ wearing of clothing is and even last week we have the European Court on Human Rights deliberate that a ban on the burqa is not a breach of human rights ( ). For all the fretting on the part of majorities, there doesn’t seem to be much consideration for a woman  who chooses to wear the burqa, niqab or hijab.   While in France, the fretting led to Nicolas Sarkozy launching a debate on ‘the meaning of being French’, there doesn’t seem to be too much thought given to the intolerance and non acceptance that the right to freedom of religion is actually a human right.The right to identityAs with Catholicism, there are different spectrums of Islam.  Faith and culture are not fixed.  For Indira has chosen that in recent months, it makes sense to wear the hijab.  While John Joe Nevin is well known as a famous Irish boxer of traveller identity, it is less known that the boxer Andy Lee is also of traveller background.  While in the 1970s, many Irish people found themselves developing English accents sooner than would have been natural, today Muslims struggle to find acceptance in many societies today.The role of sport as a force for integrationSport has great potential to create the level playing field where people can achieve at the highest level regardless of their ethnic, cultural or national identity.  The ban on headgear risks excluding millions of women from Muslim backgrounds from the sport.  A change in the rules is needed.  That is why I have signed Indira Kaljo’s petition for change.Petition Kaljo’s campaign Women in Sport

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