Washington: A coalition of US lawmakers on Tuesday urged the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) to end its discriminatory policy against Sikh basketball players who wear turbans, an important article of their faith.
In a letter to FIBA president Yvan Mainini, 21 Congress members led by Democrat Ami Bera, the lone Indian-American Congressman and Joe Crowley, a former chair of the India caucus, took up cudgels on behalf of the Sikh players.
Expressing concern about "recent reports indicating that Sikhs are not able to participate in FIBA games while wearing a turban, which is essential to their faith", the lawmakers sought a "change in this discriminatory policy".
"There is no evidence showing that a turban has been dangerous during basketball games or other popular sports events," they wrote.
"In fact, there are many examples of Sikhs who have safely competed in basketball at many levels with their articles of faith intact."
Other sports leagues, such as Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), also allow athletes wearing turbans to participate, the lawmakers noted.
In July, two Sikh players were told by referees that they must remove their turbans if they were to play in FIBA's Asia Cup as they were in violation of a FIBA rule stating "Players shall not wear equipment (objects) that may cause injury to other players".
FIBA's governing board is expected to address the issue of players wearing turbans and other headgear during a meeting at the end of August.
"Basketball is a beloved team sport that has the ability to bring people of all backgrounds together, regardless of history, culture, language, and religion," the US lawmakers wrote.
"In addition to becoming one of the most popular sports in many countries, basketball has come to exemplify how those of diverse backgrounds can communicate, coordinate, and work together in pursuit of a shared goal," they wrote.
"We believe that makes the basketball court the perfect venue to showcase the diversity of our world and the ways in which sports bring people together," the lawmakers added.