The benching of a teenage Muslim athlete from a soccer match in Palm Harbor is one in a series of local incidents in which female athletes were prohibited from playing sports in traditional Islamic dress.
Iman Khalil, 15, booted from a match Saturday, returned to the field Sunday after the referee’s decision was overturned by the league.
Ahmed Bedier, executive director of the Tampa Bay chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said his group plans to file a formal complaint this week to the agency that licenses and oversees referees.
“We’re requesting an inquiry and investigation of the actions of the referee and whether he abused his authority and whether his decision was motivated by bias,” Bedier said Monday.
Other local athletes have been involved in such incidents.
Briana Canty was 12 when her refusal to take off her head scarf almost caused her to miss an Amateur Athletic Union basketball tournament two years ago in Orlando.
The then-Greco Middle School student said, “I love my religion, and I love basketball. It’s not fair that I have to choose.”
She was allowed to play in the tournament, after her mother and CAIR intervened. . .
Bedier said that last year in Canada an 11-year-old soccer player was banned for refusing to remove her head scarf but was allowed to play after an appeal to FIFA, which sets rules for international soccer play.
“Head scarf issues are coming up more and more in Western countries,” Bedier said. In France, scarves are prohibited in all public schools and a similar move is being made in England, he said.
“It’s unfortunate,” Bedier said. “The same people you want to assimilate into your culture you are isolating more and more.”
In this weekend’s case, Bedier said, there appeared to be no direct evidence that referee Steve Richardson was biased against Khalil. Rather, he appeared to be unaware of the rules, Bedier said. The referee oversight agency will decide the issue.
Richardson was notified at halftime during Saturday’s game that the league does allow Muslim athletes to wear scarves on their heads, and he still refused to let Khalil into the game. (MORE)


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