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FIFA 23 update includes Moroccan player wearing her hijab

During this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup, the 25-year-old Moroccan football player Nouhaila Benzina made history by becoming the first woman to wear a hijab while playing a World Cup match. Now, FIFA23 is honouring her.

The Moroccan footballer Nouhaila Benzina has been an important figure in the movement for inclusivity and representation in sport, particularly for Muslim women.

So it’s only right that she became the one to make history by being the first footballer to wear her hijab during a World Cup match between her home country and South Korea in the 2023 women’s tournament.

Now, FIFA 23 is honouring her in the release of its new update (Title Update 16), which includes Benzina’s player model wearing her Islamic headscarf. This move is just one of many recent and significant steps towards improving equality and inclusivity in football – in both its digital and real-world forms.

Despite FIFA being released in the early 90s, it only started including women’s international teams in the year 2016. Still, it made history by becoming the first game to do so.

Its next release, which will be called EA Sports FC 24 after it failed to re-acquire the FIFA license, is predicted to feature women as part of the game’s Ultimate Team mode. The new feature will allow gamers to create teams containing a mix of male and female players.

Looking back at the history of the football association’s rules and the FIFA game itself, these decisions indicate another huge step towards better inclusivity in the world of sport.

The rocky journey towards inclusivity in football

Like many other sports, the rules and regulations of football associations have required athletes to wear uniforms that fail to accommodate religious or cultural practices, such as the hijab.

This already made it difficult for Muslim women to participate in the game, but in 2007, FIFA implemented an outright ban on head coverings. It effectively prohibited Muslim women from wearing hijabs on the field.

FIFA justified the decision on the grounds of safety and potential choking hazards, but was met with criticism and backlash from human rights organizations and religious groups.

Muslim female athletes, named the ‘Hijabeuses’, began to push for a change to the regulations with help from organisations that advocate for gender equality and religious freedom. They argued that with proper design and testing, head coverings could be made safe and suitable for sports.

After a number of years of campaigning, FIFA overturned the headscarf ban in 2012. This allowed female footballers to wear headscarves and hijabs during matches, as long as the garment met specific safety and design requirements.

This result was widely viewed as a victory for inclusivity and religious accommodation in sports. It also led to innovations in sportswear, with companies designing specialized hijabs that were lightweight, breathable, and safe for athletic activities.

It also led to more inclusivity in the design process, as sportswear companies collaborated with athletes to create head coverings that would not compromise their performance while still adhering to their religious practices.

Looking forward

While there has been immense progress, social challenges still remain. In some regions and competitions, female footballers wearing hijabs (and female footballers in general) may still face resistance or discrimination.

That said, the broader acceptance of Muslim athletes has set a positive precedent for religious and cultural diversity within sports. Because the industry is so lucrative, a more diverse football landscape opens the door to increased economic opportunities for underrepresented groups on a grassroots and professional level.

Not to mention, promoting diversity and inclusion in football will have positive ripple effects beyond the sport itself. Take the sharp drop in Muslim hate crimes in Liverpool after Mo Salah helped the city’s team climb to victory, for example.

Better representation is clearly capable of challenging deep-rooted misconceptions and prejudices that unfortunately remain present in modern society.

By making greater strides towards inclusivity on the world’s stage, sports can encourage a better understanding of the shared interests between various cultures, while breaking down societal barriers and fostering unity among different communities.

Isn’t that known to be part of the magic of football anyway?