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Qatar quit Asian Games in hijab row

Qatar's women's basketball team has withdrawn from the Asian Games after organisers refused to let players wear hijabs in competition.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 yesterday and refused to play, surrendering the game to Mongolia.

The decision not to turn up at all today 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.

Although sports ranging from bowling to badminton allow hijabs to be worn during Asian Games competition, basketball's world governing body does not allow them in international competition. The issue reached an impasse when the Qatari women forced the issue by refusing to play without their hijabs against Mongolia.

Asian Games officials said yesterday they did not receive any instructions from the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) to allow head coverings, and were simply following the rules which restrict the use of headgear, hair accessories and jewellery when they awarded the result to Mongolia.

Such restrictions were initially designed for the safety of players, but have recently been challenged on cultural and religious grounds.

Regulations about head coverings in basketball came into focus this year when two male Sikh players from India were told to remove their turbans during the Asia Cup in July in China.

Earlier this month, FIBA said it was launching a two-year trial phase allowing some players to wear head coverings. But the Swiss-based FIBA issued a clarifying statement saying it "allows exceptions to be applied only at the national level and the Asian Games is an international event".

FIBA will evaluate the rule again next year and determine whether to allow head coverings at some level of international competition from next summer. A full review in 2016 will decide if it will become a permanent rule change after the 2016 Olympics.

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