The hijab issue in soccer will not go away until the sport’s governing body clarifies its position, says an Ottawa-based Muslim advocacy organization.

“I don’t think crawling under the proverbial rug and hiding out until it’s all over is going to work for FIFA,” said Sarah Elgazzar, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-CAN).

The International Football Association Board (IFAB), which consists of FIFA and the English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish soccer associations, sidestepped the issue last weekend when it decided not to rule specifically on whether players can wear the hijab in a game.

Ms. Elgazzar said a simple, creative solution would settle the hijab issue – if soccer’s rule-makers were willing to show some leadership.

“It they were a little bit creative, they could say religious headgear is permissible as long as it is conceived for sports,” she said Monday in a telephone interview from Montreal.

“There are sports hijabs everywhere in the world; they’re very easy to make. It’s a cotton tube. It’s nothing more than a bandanna that’s a little longer. I’m a soccer player and I’m not going to run out and wear a burqa-style headscarf. It’s in my own interests to be comfortable, and to not hurt myself while I’m playing.”

The issue hit the headlines in late February when 11-year old Asmahan “Azzy” Mansour was ordered to remove her hijab or leave the field during a tournament in Laval, Que. Her team – the Nepean Hotspurs Selects – walked off the pitch with her to protest the referee’s ruling, which is backed by the Quebec Soccer Association.

“For decades, women have struggled to have equal opportunity and treatment on the playing field,” Ms. Elgazzar said in a statement. “In remaining ambiguous on the question of hijab and backing the Quebec referee’s decision, FIFA has effectively blocked millions of women from playing the sport.

Added Ms. Elgazzar: “On the one hand, FIFA promotes soccer amongst women by featuring hijab-clad women on their website; on the other, they have given free rein to individual referees to allow or prohibit the hijab. The situation is untenable.”


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