Nouhaila Benzina wearing a hijab while competing for Morocco. Nouhaila Benzina wearing a hijab while competing for Morocco. (Fox Soccer on Twitter.)

The Moroccan women’s soccer team is making history on several fronts at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup. With their qualification alone, Morocco became the first North African team and the first team from a majority-Arab nation to qualify for the tournament. And in their second match Sunday, they picked up their first victory on this stage, a 1-0 win over South Korea. But there was individual history made there as well, with 25-year-0ld Morocco defender Nouhaila Benzina becoming the first player to compete in a Women’s World Cup match while wearing a hijab:

As Tariq Panja notes in that Times article, this is particularly significant considering past FIFA attempts to stop women from wearing hijabs in competition, and current attempts in France to ban that:

But when it announced a starting lineup against South Korea that included Benzina, who has worn an Islamic head scarf in matches for years, it marked a significant milestone for the sport after years of disagreement about whether girls and women should be allowed to compete while wearing hijabs.

…A decade ago, Arab countries, led by Prince Ali bin Hussain, the head of Jordan’s soccer federation, successfully fought against a prohibition on hijabs in soccer. Arab officials and players had argued that outlawing headscarves would limit the participation of young girls and women in the sport, particularly in Arab countries where hijabs are a common feature of public life.

Soccer’s governing body, FIFA, eventually lifted the hijab ban, which had been in place on the grounds that head coverings exposed players to risk of injury, though France has moved recently to reinstate it.

France’s top court in June backed a prohibition on hijabs by France’s soccer federation on the grounds that headscarves were at odds with France’s secular traditions. Several players on the Moroccan squad were born or raised in France, but Benzina plays for a club team in Morocco.

Benzina wearing a hijab Sunday prompted a lot of commentary on her breaking barriers. Here’s some of that:

Benzina is the only player on Morocco’s current team who wears a hijab in competition, which she’s done for years. She didn’t play in their first match at this World Cup, a 6-0 loss to Germany Monday. But she and the Moroccan team have an excellent chance to qualify for the knockout stage, especially after Germany’s loss to Colombia Sunday.

Colombia sits on top of Group H with six points after two matches, with Morocco and Germany both on three points. Benzina and the Moroccan team will face the Colombian team Thursday.

[The New York Times; image from Fox Soccer on Twitter]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.