Just this past Tuesday, March 7, Nike made headlines around the world for their new line of “Nike Pro” products, which features a performance hijab for female Muslim athletes. This announcement comes in the wake of what seems like a shift in the company’s focus to spread their products further to the Middle East, a move that serves as a political statement as much as it is a business strategy. Even though Nike is not the first company to ever market a sport hijab, they are still taking a large step forward in the fight for acceptance and equality throughout professional athletics that people in the past have struggled with.
While Nike just released this announcement a few days ago, according to the company, the Nike Pro Hijab has been in the making for over a year. However, it seems that Nike’s plan to reach out and appeal to the Middle East has been in motion for much longer than that. Last year, Nike released an Arabic version of their popular fitness app, and just a few weeks ago released a controversial advertisement featuring five Muslim athletes. The ad, meant to inspire others and “use the power of sport to change society positively,” seemed to do just that for the most part. However, there were some people that found the ad and company to be almost anti-hijab, as none of the athletes in the video were wearing a headscarf. This, of course, now seems to be a false accusation.
The headscarf, which Nike plans to launch in spring 2018, is estimated to cost around $35 and will be offered in three colors. It will be made of a material similar to that of other Nike Pro products, which was one of the major selling points for those involved in its production. Manal Rostom, one out of several athletes who helped Nike develop the product, compared it to other cotton headscarves she had worn while training, stating, “cotton is extremely uncomfortable, especially if you are training outdoors or if you are running long distances, and especially when we live in one the hottest countries in the world."
Zahra Lari, a figure skater from the UAE, also had a hand in designing and testing the prototype, and noted how she had struggled with finding a comfortable performance hijab in the past. “I was thrilled and a bit emotional to see Nike prototyping a Hijab… I've tried so many different hijabs for performance, and ... so few of them actually work for me."
While it makes sense that these athletes may be emotional about finding a product that will work for them, it is important to also note the implications that this announcement holds. In the past there are have been organizations, like FIFA and FIBA, that have banned the wearing of the garments during their events. While FIFA has since lifted this ban, they only did so within the past few years.
Having rulings like this does nothing but perpetuate discrimination and xenophobic ideas that already run rampant in today’s world. Especially in the world of athletics where global camaraderie is a major theme, the ban of a major custom in a widespread culture is not only unfair, but sets an unhealthy example for the rest of the world. Nike’s effort to oppose these past rules and show support to these athletes that often face prejudice is a major step forward in the fight against this past prejudice and towards a more accepting future.
In the past, organizations have cited safety concerns as the reason behind the ban of the hijab and other customary headscarves in athletic settings. This reason might be legitimate to a small extent, but it leaves a feeling of neglect and unimportance in the athletes it affects. By recognizing the struggles of these athletes and attempting to solve a portion of the issue, Nike is helping in a way that other companies have yet to do.
While Nike may not be the first to attempt the creation of a performance hijab, with their global reach, Nike is setting an example for the rest of the world to follow. Through this act they are acknowledging the needs of all people, no matter their race or religion, and are allowing all people to show what they are capable of.
Emma Hungaski is an opinion contributor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.