ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Cheerleaders donned black leggings and white T-shirts for a World Championship basketball match between Iran and the United States in Istanbul on Wednesday to respect cultural sensitivities.
Some Iranian officials still left the arena shortly before their routine began, however. At previous matches officials had stood up and turned their backs.
Cheerleaders were missing altogether from Turkey’s last two matches in Ankara, raising eyebrows in the overwhelmingly Muslim but officially secular nation, particularly as scantily-clad cheerleaders had been present at other matches.
Patrick Baumann, secretary-general of the International Basketball Federation (FIBA), said “special arrangements” had been made with the dancers’ dress on Wednesday.
“We want entertainment to be part of the basketball game. If it needs a little bit of adjustment that is fine with us,” he told a news conference.
“It is a balance between respecting the culture and making sure basketball delivers all the pace, excitement and entertainment that goes with the World Championship.”
Four teams of dancers have been entertaining fans in the Turkish host venues of Ankara, Istanbul, Izmir and Kayseri.
The dancing troupes come from Ukraine, Russia and Lithuania.
The local organizing committees are in charge of arranging the entertainment but it has to be approved by FIBA, a FIBA spokesman said.
The Ankara troupe, named the Red Foxes and hailing from Ukraine, were absent during Turkey’s match against Greece on Tuesday and their match against Russia on Sunday.
The Russia match was attended by Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and his wife, who wears the Muslim headscarf.
A spokeswoman for Turkey’s Sport and Youth directorate said she was not aware of any ban on cheerleaders at Turkish games.
A source close to the situation said however that Turkish government authorities had asked informally that cheerleaders not be present at games attended by officials of the ruling AK Party, which has roots in political Islam.
The party rejects the Islamist label and points to its liberal economic and political reforms.
Editing by Sonia Oxley