Qatar women withdraw over Asian Games hijab ban

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Qatar women withdraw over Asian Games hijab ban
A score board shows the start list of Nepal and Qatar team members for the women's preliminary round basketball match at the 17th Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, Thursday, Sept. 25, 2014. Qatar's delegation chief says the women's basketball team has withdrawn from the Asian Games after organizers refused to let players wear hijabs in competition. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
This photo taken on September 24, 2014 shows members of the Qatar women's basketball team (L) walking off the court as members of the Mongolia team (back R) pose on the court, after Qatar withdrew the team, ahead of their women's preliminary round match during the 17th Asian Games at the Hwaseong Sports Complex Gymnasium in Incheon. Qatar on September 24 withdrew their women's basketball team from the Asian Games just before their first match over a rule banning Muslim headscarves. Qatar and the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) hit out at the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) rule which bans all headwear on safety grounds. QATAR OUT AFP PHOTO / AL-WATAN DOHA / KARIM JAAFAR (Photo credit should read KARIM JAAFAR/AFP/Getty Images)
This photo taken on September 24, 2014 shows members of the Qatar women's basketball team walking off the court after withdrawing ahead of their women's preliminary round match against Mongolia during the 17th Asian Games at the Hwaseong Sports Complex Gymnasium in Incheon. Qatar on September 24 withdrew their women's basketball team from the Asian Games just before their first match over a rule banning Muslim headscarves. Qatar and the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) hit out at the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) rule which bans all headwear on safety grounds. QATAR OUT AFP PHOTO / AL-WATAN DOHA / KARIM JAAFAR (Photo credit should read KARIM JAAFAR/AFP/Getty Images)
Nepal team members leave the basketball court as Qatar team did not turn up for the women's preliminary round basketball match at the 17th Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, Thursday, Sept. 25, 2014. Qatar's delegation chief says the women's basketball team has withdrawn from the Asian Games after organizers refused to let players wear hijabs in competition. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
A score board shows the start list of Nepal and Qatar team members for the women's preliminary round basketball match at the 17th Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, Thursday, Sept. 25, 2014. Qatar's delegation chief says the women's basketball team has withdrawn from the Asian Games after organizers refused to let players wear hijabs in competition. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Nepal team members practice at the women's preliminary round basketball match at the 17th Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, Thursday, Sept. 25, 2014. Qatar's delegation chief says the women's basketball team has withdrawn from the Asian Games after organizers refused to let players wear hijabs in competition. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Athletes from Qatar march into the stadium during the opening ceremony for the 17th Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea,Friday, Sept. 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)
This photo taken on September 24, 2014 shows members of the Qatar women's basketball team walking off the court after withdrawing ahead of their women's preliminary round match against Mongolia during the 17th Asian Games at the Hwaseong Sports Complex Gymnasium in Incheon. Qatar on September 24 withdrew their women's basketball team from the Asian Games just before their first match over a rule banning Muslim headscarves. Qatar and the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) hit out at the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) rule which bans all headwear on safety grounds. QATAR OUT AFP PHOTO / AL-WATAN DOHA / KARIM JAAFAR (Photo credit should read KARIM JAAFAR/AFP/Getty Images)
A shooting athlete from Qatar walks past spectators before a practice session at the 17th Asian Games at Gyeonggido Shooting Range in Incheon, South Korea, Thursday, Sept. 25, 2014. Qatar's delegation chief says the women's basketball team has withdrawn from the Asian Games after organizers refused to let players wear hijabs in competition. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)
Shooting athletes from Qatar take a break before a practice at the 17th Asian Games at Gyeonggido Shooting Range in Incheon, South Korea, Thursday, Sept. 25, 2014. Qatar's delegation chief says the women's basketball team has withdrawn from the Asian Games after organizers refused to let players wear hijabs in competition. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)
FILE- In this Sept. 18, 2014 file photo Jordan's Anfal Nayef Hammad Alsufy watches play during her team's football match against Japan at the 17th Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea. Qatar's delegation chief says the women's basketball team has withdrawn from the Asian Games after organizers refused to let players wear hijabs in competition. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung,File)
FILE - IN this Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2014 file photo, Kuwait's Karam Altaf competes in women's singles squad A bowling competition at Anyang Hogye Gymnasium at the 17th Asian Games in Anyang, South Korea. The Qatar women's basketball team forfeited its Asian Games match against Mongolia after players were refused permission to wear a hijab. Incheon Asian Games Organizing Committee spokeswoman Anna Jihyun You told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the players "had refused to take off the hijab" and the match was awarded to the opposition. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man, File)
FILE - In this Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2014 file photo, Soraya Aghaeihajiagha of Iran returns the shuttlecock against Khulangoo Bataar of Mongolia during their wonen's singles badminton match at the 17th Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea. The Qatar women's basketball team forfeited its Asian Games match against Mongolia after players were refused permission to wear a hijab. Incheon Asian Games Organizing Committee spokeswoman Anna Jihyun You told The Associated Press on Wednesday, Sept. 24, that the players "had refused to take off the hijab" and the match was awarded to the opposition. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara, File)
FILE- In this Sept. 18, 2014 file photo Jordan's Anfal Nayef Hammad Alsufy kicks a ball down filed during her team's football match against Japan at the 17th Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea. Qatar's delegation chief says the women's basketball team has withdrawn from the Asian Games after organizers refused to let players wear hijabs in competition. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung,File)
INCHEON, SOUTH KOREA - SEPTEMBER 20: Hanadi Mubarak Salem of Qatar reacts in the 10m Air Pistol Women's event at Ongnyeon International Shooting Range during the 2014 Asian Games at on September 20, 2014 in Incheon, South Korea. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
INCHEON, SOUTH KOREA - SEPTEMBER 23: Kholoud Hassan S A Al Khalaf of Qatar competes in the trap women's shooting qualification round on day four of the 2014 Asian Games match at Gyeonggido Shooting Range on September 23, 2014 in Incheon, South Korea. (Photo by Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images)
Shooting athlete Afrah Mohammad of Kuwait carries her shotgun before a practice at the 17th Asian Games at Gyeonggido Shooting Range in Incheon, South Korea, Thursday, Sept. 25, 2014. Qatar's delegation chief says the women's basketball team has withdrawn from the Asian Games after organizers refused to let players wear hijabs in competition. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)
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BY ERIC TALMADGE

INCHEON, South Korea (AP) -- The Qatari women's basketball team withdrew from the Asian Games in a protest against international rules that ban players from wearing Muslim headscarves in competition.

The dispute over the Qatari players' refusal to remove their hijabs - regarded by some as a rule that discriminates against Muslim women - has created a major stir at the games and raised new questions about rules banning the head coverings.

Qatar delegation leader Khalid al-Jabir said the team had decided to withdraw and was already preparing to return home.

The Qatari women were due to play Nepal on Thursday afternoon but did not show up at the venue. Officials took their places, starting line-ups were distributed to the media and announced to the spectators, but none of the Qatari players arrived. The women were not allowed to wear head coverings in their opening game on Wednesday and refused to play, surrendering the game to Mongolia.

The decision not to show up at all on Thursday appeared to take by surprise games organizers, who have tried to portray the regional Olympic-style event as a showcase of diversity.

"We did not get any intimation from the Qatar team on whether they'll come for the match or not," technical delegate Heros Avanesian said. "We had no option but to wait for them before awarding the match to the other team."

Al-Jabir said the team had been left with no choice.

"We're not forfeiting games - we're not being allowed to play," al-Jabir said in a telephone interview in the hours leading up to the Nepal game. "On the one hand, everyone wants more women to participate in these games and, on the other hand, they're discouraging Muslim women who want to play in hijab."

The Olympic Council of Asia had no immediate comment on the issue, nor did the Asian Games organizing committee.

Although sports ranging from bowling to badminton allow hijabs to be worn during Asian Games competition, basketball's world governing body does not allow them in international competition. The issue reached an impasse when the Qatari women forced the issue by refusing to play without their hijabs against Mongolia.

Asian Games officials on Wednesday said they did not receive any instructions from FIBA to allow head coverings, and were simply following the rules which restrict the use of headgear, hair accessories, and jewelry when they awarded the result to Mongolia.

Such restrictions were initially designed for the safety of players, but have recently been challenged on cultural and religious grounds.

Regulations about head coverings in basketball came into focus this year when two male Sikh players from India were told to remove their turbans during the Asia Cup in July in China.

Earlier this month, FIBA said it was launching a two-year trial phase allowing some players to wear head coverings. But the Swiss-based FIBA issued a clarifying statement saying it "allows exceptions to be applied only at the national level and the Asian Games is an international event."

FIBA will evaluate the rule again next year and determine whether to allow head coverings at some level of international competition from next summer. A full review in 2016 will decide if it will become a permanent rule change after the 2016 Olympics.

In Doha, Qataris interviewed by The Associated Press said the players should have been allowed to compete while wearing the hijab.

"The girls already have a lot of social pressures," said bank employee Faisal Salman. "Their determination to play basketball or football should be supported and encouraged by the authorities and sports bodies. Instead (they are) preventing them and discriminating against them."

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