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How FIBA’s “no headgear rule” highlights the socio-cultural challenges of regulating a sport

Thursday, 19 November 2015 By Saurabh Mishra

Globalisation has hardly left any realm untouched, and sport is no exception. So it is perhaps unsurprising that we are seeing conflicts arise between the international rules of a particular game and the more localised socio-cultural and religious norms of society.  

The International Basketball Federation’s (FIBA) prohibition on the use of “headgear, hair accessories and jewellery1 is a prime example. Last year it led to players wearing turbans2 and hijabs3 being prevented from competing at high profile international tournaments. This was much to the dismay of some observers, particularly as basketball is part of the Olympic Movement, aiming to educate youth through sports,4 and promoting the harmonious development of humanity.5

This article analyses the effects of FIBA’s ‘no headgear’ rule and looks at how religious and cultural headgear is being accommodated in other sports with the aim of illustrating the socio-cultral challenges that governing bodies face when trying to regulate their sport in today’s world.


The“no headgear” rule

Article 4.4.2 of FIBA’s Official Basketball Rules 2014 states:

"Players shall not wear equipment (objects) that may cause injury to other players.

  • The following are not permitted:
    • Finger, hand, wrist, elbow or forearm guards, casts or braces made of leather, plastic, pliable (soft) plastic, metal or any other hard substance, even if covered with soft padding.
    • Objects that could cut or cause abrasions (fingernails must be closely cut).
    • Headgear, hair accessories and jewellery (referred to as the “no headgear rule” for the purposes of this article)."6

FIBA have explained that the headgear rule was created 10 years ago for the "safety on the basketball court and uniformity of equipment within a team”.7 However, the rule makes no distinction between sporting headgear and other types of headgear (e.g. religious). In this respect, it arguably conflicts with Article 1.3 of the FIBA General Statutes, which states “FIBA maintains absolute political and religious neutrality and does not tolerate any form of discrimination.8

The situation has been exacerbated by two inconsistencies:

  1. The application of the rule by FIBA officials at FIBA sanctioned tournaments (examples below), which has led to confusion among the athletes; and
  2. The application of the rule across the wider game; with headgear being permitted in other non-FIBA competitions and now even in certain FIBA competitions (see below).9

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Written by

Saurabh Mishra

Saurabh Mishra

Saurabh is a lawyer working as counsel for Star India Pvt. Ltd. He is also associated with the Football Players Association of India (FPAI). He received his B.A./LLB from The West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata, and was a recipient of the Graduate Scholar Award at the Fifth International Conference on Sport and Society in July 2014. He has previously worked with organisations such as Adidas and Atletico de Kolkata, a franchise in the Hero Indian Super League.



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