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Pallone Presses International Basketball Federation to Change Discriminatory Policy Against Sikh Players

August 25, 2016
Press Release

Washington, DC– Today, Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ-06) joined a letter led by Reps. Joe Crowley (D-NY), Ami Bera (D-CA) and more than 40 Members of Congress to the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) reiterating their strong support for a change in policy that requires Sikhs and other players to remove their articles of faith, such as turbans, in international competition. FIBA’s discriminatory policy came to light in 2014 when two Sikh players were told by referees that they must remove their turbans if they were to play in FIBA’s Asia Cup. The players, who have always played in turbans, were told that they were in violation of one of FIBA’s official rules.

“Organization such as FIBA should be doing everything within their power to be inclusive of all races and religions,” said Pallone. “It is deeply disappointing that FIBA has chosen to move backwards and restrict the participation of Sikhs when there is simply no justification for continuing the ban.”

Congressman Pallone is a representative of one of the largest Indian-American constituencies in the United States, and co-founder and former chairman of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Issues.

The letter can be found below:

Horacio Muratori
International Basketball Federation /Federation Internationale de Basketball
Route Suisse 5
1295 Miles - Switzerland

Dear President Muratori,

Nearly two years ago the International Basketball Federation (FIBA), after preventing observant Sikhs from participating in international games, announced that it would review its policies and after the 2016 Olympics  make a decision on whether observant Sikh basketball players may participate in future FIBA games. In explaining its ban of observant Sikhs, FIBA said the wearing of a small turban violated Article 4.4.2 of FIBA’s official rules, which states that “Players shall not wear equipment (objects) that may cause injury to other players.”

Now, as we are days or weeks away from FIBA’s timeline for a final decision, we reiterate strong Congressional support for a decisive change in FIBA policies.

Sikhs participate in a wide variety of sports around the globe, and there has never been a single instance of someone being harmed or injured by a turban, or of a turban interfering with the sport. Already, at both the amateur and professional levels, Sikhs have played sports without a problem. This includes Sikh American Dipanjot Singh, who played Division I basketball at the University of Illinois at Chicago in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) before going on to play semi-professional basketball in several leagues. It also includes Darsh Preet Singh, who played at the NCAA level at the University of Texas. Both were beloved by teammates and excelled in their roles. Darsh’s jersey has been at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC to help recognize him as the first-ever Sikh-American to play in the NCAA.

Observant Sikhs excel at more than basketball. In fact, the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) already changed its policies to ensure that Sikhs and other religious minorities are not subjected to discrimination. Sikh FIFA players wear turbans while playing in international soccer events.

Given this information, it is long past time that FIBA ends discrimination against observant Sikhs and allows them to participate; such a change could also expand opportunities for players of other faiths, such as observant Muslims. Basketball has rapidly become a global sport popular not only in the United States but in countries like India where many Sikhs proudly participate. There is no justification for continuing the ban, and we strongly appeal to you to quickly announce that observant Sikhs and others may participate in all FIBA games without being forced to remove their articles of faith.