Qatar’s women’s basketball team has withdrawn from the Asian Games after organisers refused to let players wear hijabs in competition.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 South Korea games.
The hijab is a scarf that covers the head and neck but does not obscure the face.
Qatar were due to play Nepal but the team did not show up at the venue for the game.
Khalid al-Jabir, the Qatar delegation chief, said the basketball team was preparing to return home. The no-show came after Qatari 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 turn up at all yesterday appeared to take organisers by surprise after they 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.”
Mr al-Jabir said: “We’re not forfeiting games – we’re not being allowed to play. 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 organising committee.
Sports ranging from bowling to badminton allow hijabs to be worn during Asian Games competition but basketball’s world governing body does not allow them in international competition.