Iran to protest hijab ban on women's football team

Iran will lodge a formal complaint to the world football body after its women's team were barred from playing in an Olympic qualifier for wearing the traditional Islamic headscarf, media reports said Monday.

"We will file a complaint against the match's FIFA organiser to the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA)," Ali Kafashian head of Iran's Football Federation was quoted as saying by the Arman newspaper.

The FIFA organiser, a Bahraini national, prevented the Iranian side from playing Jordan in a London 2012 Olympics qualifying match, shortly before it was due to start in Amman on Friday, citing their "hijab", the paper reported.

Photos carried by several Iranian media showed players in headscarves kneeling around the Iranian flag and crying, moments after the decision to ban them from the match.

"The (Iranian) Football Federation had already discussed with FIFA director (Sepp Blatter) for Iranian women's participation with full Islamic hijab. We managed to acquire Blatter's consent on this matter," he said.

"It is not clear why the Bahraini official prevented Iranian women from competing in this match," he added.

The mandatory Islamic dress code observed in Iran requires all women to cover their body, head to toe.

In order to be allowed to function domestically and compete internationally, the women football team play in full tracksuits, headscarves and neck warmers.

Jordan's semi-official Al-Dustur Arabic daily reported that the match's "referees have sent a report to FIFA that they have found stark violations in the headscarves of the Iranian players."

"Tough penalties are awaiting the Iranian team, including a fine of 20,000 Swiss francs ($23,912) ... (They) will be banned from future FIFA participation," the newspaper reported.

The row over the dress code of Iran's women team has been at the heart of a struggle between FIFA and the Iranian football federation.

The world football governing body banned Iranian women from competing last April due to their plans to wear headscarves in matches, forcing the team to adjust its dressing, which was reportedly accepted by FIFA.

On Monday, Iran's top official in charge of women sports, Marzieh Akbarabadi, charged that the decision of the Bahraini referee had been politically motivated.

"The tracksuits that our players were wearing for the match ... was neither dangerous nor political. They were of the same style that FIFA had already approved," Akbarabadi told Mehr news agency.

"In reality, the Bahraini referee who banned the Iranian team from playing took advantage of an international event to benefit his own country," she said in an allusion to a recent diplomatic showdown between Tehran and Manama.

Predominantly Shiite Iran has been a vocal critic of the recent crackdown on Shiite protesters in Bahrain by their Sunni rulers, who in turn have accused Tehran of meddling and fanning confessional unrest in the tiny Gulf island.

"By standing by the nasty, political decision of this Bahraini official, FIFA has put its dignity on the line," Akbarabadi said.

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