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Moroccan player made history by wearing a hijab at the Women’s World Cup

The Women’s World Cup 2023 has been full of surprises and milestones, but one of the most remarkable moments came when Morocco defender Nouhaila Benzina took the field wearing a hijab, the Islamic headscarf, against South Korea on July 30. She became the first player to do so at a senior FIFA World Cup, breaking barriers and inspiring millions of Muslim women and girls around the world.

The hijab in football: a long and controversial history

Moroccan player made history by wearing a hijab at the Women's World Cup

The hijab is a symbol of modesty and faith for many Muslim women, but it has not always been welcomed on the football pitch. In fact, it was banned by FIFA, the game’s governing body, until 2014, when they finally allowed players to wear it for religious reasons.

The ban was based on safety concerns, but many argued that it was discriminatory and prevented millions of girls from playing the sport they loved. Some even defied the ban and faced sanctions or disqualification.

One of the most notable cases was in 2007, when an 11-year-old Canadian player named Asmahan Mansour was told to remove her hijab before a match. She refused and her team withdrew from the tournament in solidarity. Her case sparked a global debate and a campaign to lift the ban.

Another case was in 2011, when Iran’s women’s team withdrew from an Olympic qualification match after they were not allowed to wear headscarves despite reaching an agreement with FIFA. The incident caused outrage and embarrassment for FIFA, which faced pressure from the Asian Football Confederation and influential figures such as Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan to change the rule.

After years of trials and tests, FIFA finally approved the use of head covers for male and female players in 2014, following the example of other sports such as basketball and taekwondo that had already done so.

Nouhaila Benzina: a role model for many

Nouhaila Benzina is a 25-year-old defender who plays for Morocco’s national team and AS FAR Rabat, one of the country’s top clubs. She started playing football at the age of six and has always worn a hijab.

Moroccan player made history by wearing a hijab at the Women's World Cup

She said she never faced any problems or discrimination because of her hijab in Morocco, where most women wear it. She said she was proud to represent her country and her religion at the World Cup.

“I feel very happy and honored to be the first player to wear a hijab at this level. It’s a dream come true for me,” she said in an interview with

She also said she hoped to inspire other Muslim girls who want to play football.

“I want to send a message to all the girls who wear a hijab that they can achieve anything they want. They should not let anyone stop them from pursuing their passion. Football is for everyone,” she said.

Benzina’s appearance at the World Cup has been praised by many fans, journalists, activists, and former players who see her as a symbol of inclusion and diversity in football.

Moroccan player made history by wearing a hijab at the Women's World Cup
Moroccan player made history by wearing a hijab at the Women's World Cup

One of them is Shireen Ahmed, a Canadian journalist and co-host of Burn It All Down podcast, who wears a hijab herself and has been advocating for Muslim women in sports for years.

She wrote an article for The Guardian celebrating Benzina’s achievement and highlighting its significance.

“Benzina became a symbol for inclusion in a sport that not too long ago did not permit hijab-wearing women to play,” she wrote.

“There are times when soccer isn’t about the score or the technical playing, it is about the legacy and creating paths and opportunities for those young girls who come after.”

She also pointed out that Benzina was not alone in making history at this World Cup. She was joined by other players from Morocco and other countries such as Afghanistan, Egypt, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, and Uzbekistan who also wore head covers or turbans at the tournament.

“These players are not only representing their countries; they are representing their communities and their faiths. They are showing the world that football is truly universal and that there is room for everyone,” she wrote.

What do you think?

What are your thoughts on Nouhaila Benzina’s historic moment at the Women’s World Cup? Do you think it will have a positive impact on Muslim women and girls who want to play football? Do you think FIFA should do more to promote diversity and inclusion in football? Let us know in the comments below!

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