WASHINGTON, July 23, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation's largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, has called on the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) to ensure the religious rights of Muslim athletes taking part in an upcoming tournament at the committee's training center in Colorado Springs, Colo., sponsored by Switzerland-based International Basketball Federation (FIBA).
[BREAKING: USOC Responds to CAIR's Request. In a letter sent to CAIR today, USOC Chief Communications and Public Affairs Officer Patrick Sandusky wrote in part: "We take seriously American athletes right to compete and believe that reasonable steps can be taken to accommodate athletes of all religious beliefs. Working with our colleagues at USA Basketball, we have informed FIBA of our opinion on this matter and FIBA have agreed to place the issue on their agenda for their next board meeting in August."]
The 2014 FIBA Americas Women's U18 Championship, which begins August 6, features eight national teams from North, South and Central America and the Caribbean.
SEE: 2014 FIBA Americas Women's U18 Championship
Earlier this year, CAIR called on FIBA to change its rule banning Muslim women athletes from wearing Islamic head scarves, or hijab. The Washington-based civil rights organization made that request after reports that at least two American Muslim athletes have been denied a professional career at the international level by the FIBA hijab ban. FIBA has not responded to CAIR's request.
SEE: Calif. Muslim Woman Basketball Player Denied Right to Play by FIBA Hijab Ban
One of the Muslim athletes has started a petition drive asking FIBA to lift the hijab ban.
Petition: FIBA Remove Ban on Wearing Head Scarf During Competition
In a letter to USOC Chief Executive Officer Scott Blackmun, CAIR wrote in part:
"While American athletes enjoy religious rights and the ability to observe their religious practices during competition, this is not true for athletes in FIBA-sponsored activities overseas. As we have stated to FIBA officials, no athlete should be forced to choose between faith and sport.
"We ask that the USOC state publicly that it will not abide by FIBA's discriminatory and unconstitutional ban on religious attire. We also respectfully request that the USOC seek assurances from FIBA that any athlete taking part in the 2014 FIBA Americas Women's U18 Championship will have all the rights and freedoms enjoyed by American competitors."
Similar requests have been made by athletes of other faiths. CAIR is working with the Sikh American Legal Defense & Education Fund (SALDEF) on the issue.
"FIBA's decision to require Amjyot Singh and Amrit Pal Singh to take off their turbans in order to play with their team at the Asia Cup just this month runs contrary to FIFA and the NCAA's policy on the Sikh articles of faith and the spirit of athletics," said SALDEF Executive Director Jasjit Singh. "Alongside other Americans, we are calling on the United States Olympic Committee to ensure that international athletics are not set back a full century in terms of progress."
Singh noted that Sikhs wearing turbans have participated in international sports for nearly a century including the Olympics, the Asia Games and the Commonwealth Games.
SEE: FIBA is Forcing Sikhs to Take Their Turbans Off
CAIR has asked FIBA's Technical Commission to meet as soon as possible to discuss changing this discriminatory rule to allow athletes of all faiths, to compete while maintaining religious principles.
FIFA's International Football Association Board recently acknowledged the religious rights of soccer players by changing its rules to allow hijabs and Sikh turbans.
Earlier this year, CAIR helped a Muslim wrestler at the University at Buffalo in New York obtain a waiver from the NCAA to wear a beard he believes is required by his faith.
SEE: CAIR Helps NY Muslim Wrestler Obtain NCAA Waiver for Beard
In 2011, CAIR applauded a decision by the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) to modify its policy on competitor apparel to allow modest Islamic attire. The IWF policy change came following intervention by CAIR in the case of a Muslim weightlifter in Georgia who wished to compete while covering her hair, arms and legs.
Kulsoom Abdullah: Changing Policy
[NOTE: Also today, a CAIR representative will offer recommendations to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) during a public meeting to consider the board's near- and long-term agenda. CAIR Government Affairs Manager Robert McCaw's comments will address recent revelations that the FBI and NSA have been spying on U.S. Muslim leaders and will provide recommendations to the PCLOB that take into account the troubling impacts of certain national security programs on the privacy and civil liberties rights of American Muslims, Arab-Americans, South Asians, and Sikhs.
Read CAIR's Prepared Statement:
CAIR is America's largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.
SOURCE Council on American-Islamic Relations