Coverage abroad | In Islamic world, head scarves not always compulsory football equipment

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A scolaire (school) girls’ team in Ben Slimane, Morocco, warms up on Mar 2. “For girls in Morocco, there are few options for them if they want to continue playing after they leave school,” writes Matuska. (Copyright © 2007 Nicole Matuska. Used by permission.)

Rabat, Morocco| FIFA, with regard to girls and women wearing head covering during matches, has shown the limitations of setting social policy through the rules of football (see Mar 3). With a global constituency and bedrock conservatism, the rules makers and their FIFA overlords would hardly be able to solve a conundrum that has dogged societies—such as France, Britain and, now, Canada—struggling to integrate this Islamic expression of piety into secular life.

A cursory survey of women’s use of the hijab within football, in both Muslim and non-Muslim lands, shows variance that likely defies a systemic approach.

Matuska

Beginning in Morocco, Fulbright scholar Nicole Matuska, researching women’s football while playing herself for l’Association Cité des Arts in the capital, Rabat, writes that a minority of women players choose to wear hijab during games, perhaps two or three per team. She says, “From my experience, the hijab here in Morocco is less of an issue than in other parts of the Muslim world,” with the garment carrying multiple interpretations. Some who wear the hijab and play soccer receive more grief for pursuing what is perceived as a masculine game. Others earn plaudits for choosing to remain covered. Writing for Abroad View magazine, Matuska—who graduated from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, last year—recalls her first time seeing ACDA compete, in Nov 04 during a study-abroad program:

Some women wore pants and long-sleeved jerseys, attempting to cover all visible skin in accordance with Islamic law. They were the ones who tucked their hair under the traditional hijab, pinning it tightly to their heads so that even a hard sprint could not shake it loose. Most women, however, simply wore their short-sleeved jerseys and shorts, exposing their bare legs and arms. (“Headers in Hijab: Women’s Soccer in Morocco,” 1 Sept 06)

Matuska as part of her research is attempting to organize girls’ leagues in less developed sectors of Morocco and to produce a documentary on the women’s game. Fleeting insights into the hijab within women’s soccer have come from previous short films and long-form journalism. The ABC network in Australia in 2003 produced a segment on Afifa Saad, a forerunner to Asmahan Mansour, whose ouster from a youth tournament outside Montreal in late February, due to her head covering, occasions these meditations on the place of religious headwear in the world game.

The ABC program aired nearly a year before Saad, 10 years older than Mansour at the time, was told she could not compete for South Melbourne Women’s Soccer Club before a Women’s Premier League match versus Keilor Park (Rachel Wells and Michael Lynch, “Soccer Game Called Off Over Headscarf,” The Age, 27 Apr 04). According to Saad, the referee told her, “You can’t play with it on. Is there something wrong with your head?” Saad replied, “No, I’m Muslim,” but left the field in tears with the game having been abandoned. The referee was reprimanded, and the Victoria Soccer Federation clarified its policies.

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