Throughout history, athletic attire has usually reflected new advancements in science and technology that have allowed athletes to perform at their highest potential. Early next year, Nike is looking to launch their newest addition to the world of athletic attire that is centered on advancements in inclusivity and equal opportunity: the Nike Pro Hijab.
“If you have a body, you’re an athlete,” said Nike in their press release for the upcoming product.
The brand stays true to its motto with the new garment, designed to open doors for Muslim women in sport. The Nike Pro Hijab is the result of nearly two decades of hard fought development and the work of smaller companies to push a sports hijab into the international market. Nike is building off of the need in the existing market to create a product that is accessible across the globe.
The Nike Pro Hijab has been developed by Nike along with vetting by female Muslim athletes. The process started with a prototype made out of existing innovations in textile and synthetic material. This prototype was then altered to the physical and cultural specifications of the Muslim athletes from all over the world that tested it.
“As each country has its own particular hijab style, the ideal design would need to accommodate variances,” said a Nike press release.
Their testing continued and included the addition of size ranges and modification to the way that the garment remains snug around the face. The final product, set to be released in 2018, is constructed using polyester and contains opaque venting holes that do not affect the coverage of the garment. The elasticity of the hijab allows for variance in tightness, making it adaptable to different sports and cultural and personal preferences. Nike will be offering it in black, “vast gray” and obsidian colours in order to accommodate what the company says is the “athletes’ desire for dark neutrals.”
Nike has been supplementing the development of the garment with the addition of its stores in the Middle East, wich the company says will hold “collections inspired by Nike’s roster of elite female athletes, women’s races, Nike Run Clubs and the NTC App in Arabic.”
The effort has not come without resistance. The “#BoycottNike” trend online started soon after mention of the new product earlier this year. Participants of the trend have spoken out against Nike with the intention of framing them as supporters of women’s oppression.
Amna Al Haddad, is an olympic weight-lifter and one of the main contributors in the creation of the Nike Pro Hijab. She has addressed the pushback on social media.
“It is a recent phenomenon where more women have expressed a need for it and more professional athletes have fought for rights to compete with a headscarf, and have an equal playing field,” Al Haddad said. “I support Muslim women with or without hijab, and how they dress is their choice. [The] Nike Sports Hijab [will surely] encourage a new generation of athletes to pursue sports professionally, and without us athletes who fought for this right and made it happen, Nike wouldn’t ‘just do it.’”
In the past five years, rules in sports from boxing to soccer have been changed to create a more inclusive environment regarding religious garments. In 2014 FIFA, the international governing body of soccer, lifted its ban of headscarves authorizing any individual to wear a head cover for religious reasons. Earlier this year, US boxing officials clarified its ruling on headgear to ensure that religious garments would be exempt. FIBA, the international basketball association, has made steps towards implementing similar exemptions, but they have not been confirmed yet.
In contrast, some sports have taken steps away from this inclusion in the past decade. FINA, the international ruling body for the sport of swimming, changed the requirements for competitive swimsuits after the controversy over the full-body polyurethane racing suits used in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and the 2009 World Championships in Rome.
Because the full-body suits assisted swimmers, many questioned at the time how much of the high level of performance in those years was attributed to the suits rather than the athletes themselves.
As a result, FINA abruptly changed the rules concerning competitive attire. New rules implemented in 2010 state that men can only race in suits that are above the knee and below the belly button. In addition, women’s suits now have to be above the knee with limited covering of the shoulders and no covering of the neck.
Though this decision was based solely on the performance enhancement of the high tech suits, it has implications for Muslim women in swimming. The sport is already inaccessible due to its co-ed practicing nature and the revealing attire that is usually associated with it. However, with the ruling from 2010, the restrictions are even more severe and currently do not have any exemptions for religious garments.
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