#LetSikhsPlay: FIBA scared by a piece of cloth

Amjyot Singh 4

Are you kidding me, FIBA?

In a week where the world already has seen Israeli and Palestinian children being butchered in a senseless tit-for-tat, where a small group of pro-Russian rogue separatists have the ability to shoot down an entire commercial jet liner carrying hundreds of passengers, and with mounting religious violence in Nigeria, Algeria, and Iraq, we thought we could take a break from all the ethnic strife (for just a few hours) and watch Saturday night’s FIBA Asia Cup in peace.

That is, until your referees suddenly invoked Article 4.4.2 of your official rules (“Players shall not wear equipment (objects) that may cause injury to other players”) and banned two Sikh players on India’s men’s basketball team from starting the game against Japan because of the cloth turbans on their head.

To be clear, their turbans are not new and neither is Article 4.4.2.  Which is why I find this all very confusing.

For example, last year, FIBA (that’s you) allowed the very same two Sikh players to wear their turbans at FIBA’s Asia Championship in Manila without any problem.  And what’s more, guess how many injuries were caused by turbans?

There’s also FIFA, which just finished bringing different parts of the world together in an amazing international competition.  FIFA allows turbans to be worn during its football matches, which is of merit especially since the sport also allows players to hit the ball using their heads.  Guess how many injuries were caused by turbans?  Now guess how many injuries were caused by cleats, or teeth, conveniently coming into contact with the body parts of opposing players?

Even the NBL Canada and the NCAA (governing the very sport you do) allow turbans to be worn.  Guess how many injuries were caused in both those leagues by a piece of cloth worn on the head?

Sports are riddled with injuries, but none by blunt force trauma caused by, to wit, turban.

It is confusing, you see, when Sikhs are allowed to wear a turban on airplanes, in driver’s license photos, in the Olympic games, in the surgery room, in world cricket tournaments, in war, at work, or in any other dangerous or meaningful place, then how during a basketball game – out of all things – does a turban (a single piece of fabric) pose as a safety hazard to the physical well-being of other players?

It doesn’t.

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All a turban does do during a basketball game – at worst – is invite us to think.  For some, it poses an unsubstantiated threat to the fear of the unknown, that the man wearing it is – gasp! – somehow different from you and I.  Well, welcome to the world, Dorothy.

I sometimes wonder if we’ve regressed as a world society when it comes to dealing with unfamiliarity.  Can you imagine what would have happened if world explorers a thousand years ago operated under this fear?  What would have happened if the Chinese didn’t sell their silk in the bazaars of Persia because the merchants wore hijabs?  Or if Kublai Khan didn’t invite Marco Polo’s father to his court because he had never seen an Italian?

That now it’s the basketball court that has become more multicultural is a good thing.

And that’s why this is a great opportunity for FIBA to step away from the ethnic divides surrounding all of us in the news and do what needs to be done in other parts of the world — start bringing people together.  Especially for the love of sport.

If FIBA doesn’t, it would be the only true injury in all this.

Join SALDEF, Sikh CoalitionNewsweek and a thousand others in #LetSikhsPlay.

Or, better yet, join me in sending a tweet to @FIBA letting them know that a piece of cloth is as peaceful as you make it.