Qatar quits basketball over headscarf ban

Incheon (South Korea) (AFP) - Qatar on Wednesday withdrew their women's basketball team from the Asian Games just before their first match over a rule banning Muslim headscarves.

Qatar and the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) hit out at the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) rule which bans all headwear on safety grounds.

The Gulf state, whose team were due to open their campaign against Mongolia in the qualifying round at Incheon on Wednesday, said the rule ran contrary to Olympic principles on diversity.

"FIBA didn't let our players play with the headscarves and so we had to withdraw from the tournament," said Ahlam Al Mana, head of Qatar's women's sports committee.

"What happened today is against International Olympic Committee goals which are meant to include countries from different cultures, and also it's against the slogan of the Asian Games in Incheon which is 'Diversity Shines here.'"

Al Mana said Qatar knew about the ban in advance, but hoped to persuade FIBA to change its mind. The headwear ban has already been relaxed at national level.

She added that teams from other countries affected by the ban had not travelled to the Games in South Korea.

"I'm pretty sure that what happened today can change FIBA rules quickly," Al Mana said.

"Of course the OCA encouraged us to participate but this is a technical decision from FIBA. I hope in the near future they will allow us."

FIBA did not comment on the case, but the OCA director general Husain Al-Musallam hit out over the hijab ruling.

"The right of the athletes must be the highest priority," he said in a statement.

"Every athlete has the right to represent their country’s flag without discrimination or without the threat of a financial penalty."

Football is among the sports which allow religious head coverings following a change of heart from world body FIFA earlier this year.