"This is plain and obnoxious ignorance from organisers in China. They have no right to organise any tournament if they are so ignorant about social customs of other countries. We should not make it a religious issue out of it but it's an issue of our pride, our custom," was the reaction of former India cricketer Bishan Singh Bedi after hearing about the two of Indian Sikh basketball players — Amritpal Singh and Amjyot Singh — who were not allowed play with their turban on during the 5th FIBA Asian Cup in Wuhan on July 12.
On July 12, when India were about to play against Japan, Amritpal and Amjyot, both hailing from Punjab, were asked to take-off their headgear by the tournament organisers. Both the players were informed that they were breaking the international basketball federation rules and were not allowed to play with their headgear.
The Indian basketball team did manage to beat hosts China before giving scare to World Cup qualifiers Iran, Jordan and the Philippines during the course of tournament.
But the incident involving Sikh players has been condemned across country and forced the sports minister Sarbananda Sonowal to ask the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to issue necessary guidelines to the international sports federations so that such incidents are not repeated.
But Bedi says he is amazed that even in modern age of communication "such ignorant people exist and that too on playing fields".
"This was so disgraceful. Every Sikh has a right to wear headgear," said Bedi, adding: "I still remember that I started my career wearing a turban even while touring Australia, England or any other part of the world between 1961 to 69.
"It was just before a game against Australia in Mumbai that I told my captain Tiger Pataudi that I am going to wear a headgear (Patka) and not turban because of sweaty weather there. And Tiger told me that I can even play in my birthday suit as long as I'm performing. On a serious note, no one ever actually objected about it."
Another of India's great left-arm bowler Maninder Singh echoed Bedi's sentiments. "All these countries holding such important tournaments are got to realise that this is a sensitive issue. They got to realise that Sikhism is a religion in India. They got to do their homework first. If you can't then you don't deserve to host these tournaments in your country," he said.
Referees in China reportedly told Sikh players that they were violating Article 4.4.2 of the FIBA rules, which states that "Players shall not wear equipment (objects) that may cause injury to other players.
Headgear, hair accessories and jewellery are not permitted."
Amritpal and Amjyot took off their headgear, tied their hair back, and returned to the game 15 minutes after it started. The Indian team ended up losing to Japan by 23 points.
Amritpal told dna over phone that he never had any such experience in the past. "I played at the Asian Basketball Championships in Wuhan, China in September 2011 wearing headgear. No one stopped me or complained about the headgear at that time. Even in last year's Asian Championship in Manila and Lusofonia Games in Goa, I played wearing headgear. I don't know what happened this time," said Amritpal on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Amjyot called it an insult to the Sikh religion. He said they played the remaining six matches at the Asia Cup without the headgear and tied their hair with a band. "This incident has hurt our religious sentiments. It's an insult to our religion. The local organisers told us that FIBA has introduced some rules which prohibit us from wearing objects like headgear."
IOA senior vice-president, Tarlochan Singh, termed the incident as "most unfortunate" and urged the Indian ambassador in China to take up the matter with the local organisers.
"This is uncalled for. This has never happened before all over the world there is no ban on any head gear. Only in boxing, they don't allow anyone to go into the ring with anything on their head," said Tarlochan.
India's American coach Scott Fleming said he pleaded with the match officials but to no avail. "A headgear does not cause any harm to others," he reportedly told the organisers.
BFI secretary general, Ajay Sud has informed dna that BFI senior vice-president K Govind Raj has taken up the matter at the Annual General Assembly of the FIBA Asia at Doha.
"BFI has also written a strong letter to the FIBA technical committee expressing its anguish over the issue," he added.