The International Basketball Federation must end its discrimination against Sikh players and allow them to play wearing a turban, a bipartisan group of 39 influential American lawmakers have demanded.
Led by Congressmen Joe Crowley, Vice Chair of the Democratic Caucus, and Ami Bera, the only Indian-American lawmaker, 39 Members of the Congress, in a letter to the International Basketball Federation (FIBA), yesterday reiterated their support for a change in policy that requires Sikhs and other players to remove their articles of faith, such as turbans, in international competition.
"We have seen time and again that sports have the power to unite – basketball included. The sport has gained in international stature in recent decades and is increasingly popular in countries where the use of a turban is a common practice. We urge you to amend your policies to ensure that people all around the world have an equal opportunity to play the game," the lawmakers wrote in the letter.
"Sikhs participate in a wide variety of sports around the globe, and there has not been a single instance of someone being harmed or injured by a turban. Even at the amateur and professional levels, Sikhs have played sports without a problem," the letter said.
"For example, Sikh American Dipanjot Singh played Division I basketball at the University of Illinois at Chicago in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Singh then went on to play semi-professional basketball in several leagues," it said.
The letter followed an outcry over an incident involving two Sikh players who were told by referees that they must remove their turbans if they were to play in FIBA’s Asia Cup.
The members also requested an update on FIBA’s review of the policy and on the status of the organisation’s two-year testing phase announced last fall.
Last summer, Crowley and Bera had led 22 Congress members in writing a letter to FIBA’s president, urging the board to end its discriminatory policy against Sikh basketball players who wear turbans, an important article of faith.
The players, who have always played in turbans, were told that they were in violation of one of FIBA’s official rules, which states, "Players shall not wear equipment (objects) that may cause injury to other players."
However, there is no evidence that a Sikh turban poses a threat to cause injury, and other sports leagues, such as Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), allow athletes wearing turbans to participate, the lawmakers argued.
In response to the members’ letter and strong public pressure, FIBA announced that it would review the issue and begin a two-year testing phase that would allow players to wear head coverings starting in summer 2015, with an ultimate eye toward a final decision after the 2016 Olympics.
However, despite FIBA’s promises about action this summer, there has been no update on the status of the testing phase, the Congressmen said.