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

Nepean Hotspurs Select was grouped with seven other teams in an U-12 age bracket at the weekend girls’ tournament. Two matches were played without incident on Saturday before Mansour was told to remove her hijab.

The roots of Mansour’s traumatic weekend perhaps date to late January, when the Quebec Soccer Federation, in a memo to organizers of the Laval event, wrote within a series of guidelines, “Le port du voile islamique ou de tout autre objet religeux n’est pas autorisé” (“The wearing of the Islamic veil or any other religious item is not permitted”) (CBC News, Feb 25). On one hand, the document provides cover for the actions of referee Lyes Arfa, who, coincidentally, is Muslim, on the morning of Feb 25. Nepean coaches and administrators admit that they were aware of the regulation, but did not expect it to be enforced.

But the explicit banning of religious headwear, with specific mention of the “Islamic veil,” weakens a statement by Quebec Soccer Federation technical director Valmie Ouellet that the referee based his decision solely on safety concerns. (Referees allowed Mansour to compete in two matches on Saturday.) Mansour’s hijab had the potential, Ouellet says, to put Mansour at risk. “If it becomes untucked and the player is running on a breakaway, for example, and another player pulls on it, I would imagine it would be quite a jar to the neck and head of the player wearing the headgear.”

Further, prohibition of headgear of the type Mansour was wearing contravenes FIFA rules as well as current interpretation and practice worldwide and elsewhere in Canada. According to FIFA’s own commentary on Law 4, governing players’ equipment, “Modern protective equipment such as headgear, facemasks, knee and arm protectors made of soft, lightweight, padded material are not considered to be dangerous and are therefore permitted.” These guidelines were updated in 2005. On 30 Nov 06, Jordan’s women’s team made its international debut at the Asian Games in Doha, Qatar, with three players in hijab. Jordan lost to Japan, 0–13.

We consulted the author of RefBlog, a credentialed referee who has been chronicling game situations and “the human side” of the game’s laws since 2003. He mentions the parallel case of Afifa Saad, a talented Australian player ordered to remove her hijab during a Victorian Soccer Federation match in 2004. The referee was threatened with disciplinary action and the policy toward the hijab clarified.

Iranian players Saedeh Ahmadi, right, and Shihrin Nasiri, left, fight for the ball during the West Asian Soccer Federation Women’s Championship in 2005. Players in Iran compete in hijab unless only women are present. (AP | Muhammad Al-Kisswany)

Although regulations in Ontario, British Columbia and within the U.S. Soccer Federation (see memo on “Player Dress,” 22 Nov 02) sanction religious head coverings, the RefBlog author still believes that coaches should err on the side of caution to gain clearance beforehand. “In these, and pretty much any situation where you might be outside the mindset of what is ‘normal,’ it’s best to cover your[self] ahead of time, and get written approval from the league” (see “When Do You Fight the Fight?” RefBlog, Feb 28).

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