Whose heads are covered? | Rules-addled Quebecers keep hijab, but not politics, off the field

Mansour with members of Nepean Hotspurs Select. (Ottawa Citizen)

Laval, Québec | Eleven-year-old Asmahan (Azzy) Mansour walked onto an indoor field at a youth soccer tournament in suburban Montreal Sunday and into the maelstrom of Canada’s identity politics. As is her custom, she wore traditional Islamic headdress, the hijab, and answered the call for a substitute from Nepean Hotspurs Select coach Louis Maneiro. She tells the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. what happened:

It was my shift on the field, and, as soon as I stepped in, [the referee] said, “Get off the field,” just kept on screaming, “Get off the field,” yelling at me, “Get off the field.” … I was [thinking], “What did I do wrong? Why can’t I play?” … I didn’t get off the field. I just stayed on until the coach came, until Louis was talking to him. … They were starting to speak French, and Louis said, “That’s enough,” and we just walked. (Ottawa Morning, CBC, Feb 26)

Her team and other youth sides representing the Nepean club, based in Ottawa, withdrew from the ARS Laval National tournament. They left the field in solidarity with Mansour, opening a debate on FIFA rules governing religious headgear and, more broadly, on “reasonable accommodation” for religious minorities within Québec.

The debate over religious tolerance within one of Canada’s most culturally distinctive provinces has helped frame an ongoing campaign for Québec’s top ministerial post; the election is Mar 26. Incumbent Premier Jean Charest, whose Liberal Party leads a three-way contest in recent polls, backed the position of the Quebec Soccer Federation and that of tournament organizers who claimed they were enforcing FIFA equipment guidelines, not violating Mansour’s rights, when preventing her from coming on as a substitute. Charest compared the incident to one from his youth, when a referee chided players for failing to keep team jerseys tucked into their shorts. “This is part of the culture of this sport,” said Charest, referring to respect for the referee (Graeme Hamilton, “Charest Backs ‘No Hijab’ Ruling in Soccer,” National Post, Feb 27). Parti Québécois leader André Boisclair, running second to Charest, rejected his opponent’s “meddling.”

The International Football Association Board, the body with authority over the Laws of the Game, has said it will discuss policy regarding the Muslim head scarf at its annual general meeting Mar 3 in Manchester, England (see below). Already on the agenda was an amendment to Law 4, suggested by FIFA, seemingly aimed at curtailing players, during celebratory frenzies, from broadcasting messages of personal salvation borne on undergarments: “Jesus Loves Me,” and the like. The proposed amendment would relate to compulsory equipment—the hijab most certainly would be regarded as “non-basic”—and would bar undershirts containing “any political, religious or personal statements.” Advertising already is banned from undershirts.

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