A group of 11-year-old soccer players demonstrated more wisdom than the adults officiating at their tournament last week near Montreal.

When Asmahan Mansour, 11, was suddenly told she couldn’t play if she wore her Muslim headscarf, her young teammates walked off the floor in solidarity, and to show their dismay at the poor judgment of the referee.

The team from Ottawa, where there is no ban on the hijab, ultimately pulled out of the tournament rather than play without Mansour.

The rationale of the referee (who is also Muslim) was that the headscarf was a safety hazard, and soccer’s international governing body, FIFA, has rules that players “must not use equipment or wear anything that is dangerous to himself or another player.”

But this clashed with the fact that Mansour had already been allowed to play two matches earlier in the Laval tournament.

A closer examination also shows the Quebec ruling is clearly out of step with the rest of the provinces, including Alberta. Mario Charpentier, head of the Edmonton Minor Soccer Association, said Monday they’ve seen no evidence the hijab is a safety problem and allow girls to wear it on the field. Youngsters also play wearing sweat bands and small scarfs.

Canada’s chief soccer referee, Joe Guest, was also surprised at the Quebec ruling because so far the hijab has not created any “on-field problems.”

In Guest’s view, FIFA rules mean that head gear is permitted, as long as it is safe.

“If you stick with Quebec’s interpretation, players can’t wear prescription eye- glasses. But they do,” he told reporters.

When a religious obligation comes up against the rules of sport, the goal should be to find a way to be inclusive as possible. The alternative — using rules to exclude a segment of the population for no practical reason — is not appropriate and not in the spirit of Canada’s multicultural society.

Sarah Elgazzar, who speaks for the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations, says she played soccer wearing a hijab for several years in Quebec. There maybe a perceived safety problem because the hijab is tied under the neck, she notes, but that can be resolved with Velcro fasteners.


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