Hijabs in sport

Asma Elbadawi’s campaign has legalised hijabs in basketball

Photo by muftysludge on Flickr

— 3 minute read — By Maggie Gannon

A few years ago, the name Asma Elbadawi was one you might not have heard of and perhaps still aren’t all too familiar with. In 2014, Elbadawi made headlines as she and many others began to protest against the International Basketball Federation (FIBA), in order to remove the ban on wearing hijabs in the sport. Her activism across the last few years has taken the sport in an exciting new direction.

Elbadawi was born in Sudan but, at a young age, moved to the UK where she found a passion for both basketball and poetry. Growing up in Yorkshire, Elbadawi describes how she felt there were a lack of role models for herself in popular culture, which led her to want to be the best version of herself in order to inspire future generations. This is exactly what she did. 

Alongside her accomplishments in professional basketball, and despite being dyslexic, Elbadawi is a spoken word poet and has won titles such as BBC Radio 1Xtra’s ‘Words First’ Competition in 2015. She continues to use poetry to express her own battles throughout her life. 

Having already led a successful life, in 2014 Elbadawi set out to tackle an injustice within her sport. The rule she confronted was a ban on headwear that was over 5 centimetres long in professional basketball. She, and many other women, felt that this rule excluded and ostracised the Muslim community from partaking in basketball.  It was from this that a campaign and online petition was created which sparked over 130,000 signatures. Eventually, FIBA were forced to alter the rules, allowing Muslim women to compete whilst wearing hijabs globally.

When speaking to the BBC, Elbadawi hoped that the success of this campaign will, in turn, lead to further Muslim representation in sport and in the media, thus giving future generations hope that they are not defined by their faith or racial background. She believes strongly in being the first one to make a change when sensing an inequality, as this will then act as a smaller step towards a more diverse community for everyone.

Since the campaign, in 2017, the BBC published one of Elbadawi’s poems that describes growing up as a female Muslim basketball player in aid of Women’s Sport Week. Later on that same year, another one of her poems ‘Boys Will Be Boys’ was published on BBC Three – again adding to this discussion of social injustice. Elbadawi has also since taken part in a charitable placement based in Tanzania, in which she worked with children, coaching basketball and discussing gender equality. 

This year she has released a debut poetry collection entitled ‘Belongings’ which covers subjects personal to her own life growing up as a British Sudanese woman. Elbadawi also currently works as sports inclusivity consultant.

She refers to herself as the ‘Queen of the Ball’ and believes this shows how a woman can be both beautiful and an expert in her sport.  Elbadawi’s work, however, is something we can all be inspired by.