- Associated Press - Thursday, July 8, 2010

TEHRAN, IRAN (AP) - Iran might not send its girls’ soccer team to the Youth Olympics in Singapore next month because of a dispute over the players’ Islamic attire, Iranian media reported Thursday.

The deputy head of Iran’s physical education department, Marzieh Akbarabadi, was quoted by newspapers, including Khabar Varzeshi, or Sport News, as saying the newly designed dress was “inappropriate.”

She said the outfit isn’t what was agreed on and Iran doesn’t “need to send its team to Singapore at any cost.”

The outfit was supposed to be a compromise with soccer’s governing body. In 2007, FIFA banned traditional hijab headscarves _ which protect the modesty of Islamic girls and women _ for safety reasons and to prevent political or religious statements on the field.

The new Iranian outfit consists of a cap similar to what swimmers wear, long-sleeved thick tops, below-knee trousers and long stockings. The new white dress has red-and-green details in Iranian flag colors, and was created by Iranian designers.

It was unveiled during practice Wednesday and Akbarabadi, who is in charge of all women’s sports in Iran, left in protest. She did not elaborate on what aspect of the uniform was inappropriate.

Iran is to play in the six-nation soccer tournament in Singapore. About 3,600 athletes, ages 14-18, will compete Aug. 12-25 in 26 sports at the inaugural Youth Games.

FIFA demanded in April that Iran swap the traditional headscarves for a cap that covers the players’ hair, so it could take part in Singapore.

Akbarabadi’s comments seemed to indicate more an internal dispute within Iran’s sports establishment than a controversy with FIFA.

She also said only one Iranian designer could come up with an outfit that was close to both FIFA standards and Iran’s viewpoint. Under the country’s strict Islamic regulations, women should cover themselves head to toe, although they are allowed to show their faces. Akbarabadi said the Iranian soccer federation could not reach an agreement with the particular designer.

Reports also quoted the head of Iran’s soccer federation, Ali Kaffashian, defending the new outfit. According to him, it complied with FIFA standards and had been approved by the Iranian physical education department.

He said it would have been possible to tweak the design had Akbarabadi made her stance known before. Akbarabadi said she had seen the outfit for the first time Wednesday.

The report also said the Iranian federation will pursue a final version of the girls’ team attire in the coming days, indicating an agreement may still be reached.

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