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International Basketball Federation Votes to End Religious Head Covering Ban

The world governing body for basketball Thursday unanimously approved a rule that will allow players to wear religious head coverings. It takes effect on Oct. 1.

The International Basketball Federation, known as FIBA, said in a statement that the new policy comes in response to traditional dress codes in some countries that require players to cover their heads or entire bodies.

The rule change, among other things, allows headgear that is black, white, or the same dominant color as the uniform; does not cover the face partially or entirely; and isn't dangerous to the person wearing it or to others.

It is expected to benefit players of a number of religious faiths who wear head coverings, among them Jews, Muslims, and Sikhs, according to The Sikh Coalition, a nonprofit civil rights group.

"My religious articles of faith never interfered with my ability to play the game of basketball," Darsh Preet Singh, the first turbaned Sikh basketball player in the NCAA, told NBC News in an email. "I am pleased that FIBA has come to the same conclusion, which will allow athletes from every corner of the world to play the game they love without compromising their beliefs."

FIBA said it began the process of revising its headwear ban in September 2014, granting exceptions on a national level as part of a two-year test period. Originally enacted for safety reasons, the ban prohibited players who wore turbans, hijabs, and yarmulkes from setting foot on the court. One fear was that players could slip on headgear that fell to the ground.

FIBA's central board approved the new rule in January, and representatives from 139 national federations unanimously ratified it in Hong Kong on Thursday.

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The Sikh Coalition, which has demanded that FIBA lift the ban, called the new guidelines a game-changer for observant Sikhs, who wear turbans, and members of other religions who don head coverings and were barred from basketball competitions.

"If implemented appropriately, ending this discriminatory policy opens the door for millions of young people to practice their faith and pursue their dreams," Sikh Coalition senior religion fellow Simran Jeet Singh said in a statement.

Just last month, players wearing hijabs, the Muslim headscarf worn by women, competed in a basketball game in Tehran, the capital of Iran. It marked the first time men were permitted to watch a women's sporting event in person, according to FIBA.

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The game, observed by FIBA officials, also served as a test run for the new head covering rule.

Several years back, the International Football Association Board, known as FIFA, approved changes that allow men and women to wear head coverings on the field.

And USA Boxing, the sport's national governing body, will reportedly lift its ban in June. The group recently granted a waiver to a 16-year-old Muslim-American student to compete in a match this week wearing a hijab.

US Fighter in Hijab Makes Boxing History 1:45

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