A soccer team of Canadian girls recently applied sandbox mores when they decided that the report-card virtue of ”plays well with others” was meant to include everyone — including those in Muslim headscarves.

The red hijab worn by Asmahan Mansour, an 11-year-old player for the Nepean Hotspurs near Ottawa, had never hurt anyone in the games she played before the Canadian indoor championships last month in Quebec. But as Mansour trotted onto the field for a shift change, about to mix it up with players in prescription glasses and elastic headbands, a referee ejected her when she wouldn’t remove her headscarf.

Safety violation, the ref cited.

R U kidding? Mansour’s teammates thought.

With preteens, thought bubbles are always in text-message form, so their next step was C U later. The girls triggered a tense national debate on multiculturalism — was the hijab a safety issue or religious discrimination? — when they instinctively turned and walked off the field in support of Mansour. The Hotspurs withdrew from the tournament.

“They said, ‘We’re proud of you, Asmahan,'” Mansour told Canada’s CTV last month, adding, “And I was very proud of my teammates for having my back.”

Team boundaries should be safe havens. It may take the wisdom of children to amplify it, but inside a locker room or clubhouse, there is an expected refuge from the outside bias and ridicule that exists more than ever as sports become ethnically, religiously and racially diverse. . .

The lessons of open-minded acceptance aren’t that difficult. Even 11-year-olds on a soccer field in Canada understand how to react to the new culture wars in sports: take a stand by walking out together.

“What Asmahan’s team did was really amazing,” said Sarah Elgazzar, an executive with the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations. “It’s a very hopeful sign. They know who Asmahan is. She loves to play soccer. She is just like them.”

The Hotspurs supported their own, turning their sandbox into a safe haven. What a team concept.


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