Quebec Soccer Dragging its Heels in Allowing Head-Scarves

By Ripan Kaur (WSO Communications Intern)

FIFA's recent announcement approving goal line technology came with another important change to the game - the organization also approved head scarves for female players.

It took initiatives from the FIFA Vice President, the Iranian government, a Jordanian prince, and the United Nations for the organization to revoke its ban prohibiting the headscarf from the field. The previous ban had resulted in limiting access to the sport and presented problems for countries like Jordan, which was forced to forego selecting certain players who did wear the headscarf, and, more famously, resulted in the Iranian women’s soccer team being unable to qualify for the London games this summer.

Clearly this is good news. For women of the Muslim faith, playing the game at an international level of play does not have to conflict with their personal choices. In terms of fairness, countries, including Jordan, Iran, and other Middle Eastern nations looking to develop the sport, are able to choose players based on skill and merit, regardless of their religious adherence.

It’s disappointing then, that the same can’t be said for Canadians. In May, it was reported that Aneel Samra, a young Montreal Sikh was banned from playing in the Lasalle Soccer Association because of his turban. Just recently (notably after FIFA’s decision to allow the hijab) nine-year-old Royanne Benatti was sent off the pitch in Gatineau for wearing her headscarf. These events are part of a long history of similar occurrences in the province, as young Asmahan Mansour and referee Sarah Benkirane were also previously excluded from participating in Laval and Montreal, respectively.  WSO had spoken out against the exclusion of both Mansour and Benkirane respectively. 

One of the reasons cited by FIFA for prohibiting the hijab and other religious headdresses during play was safety.  The argument had been made that because the hijab covers the neck, it may pose a choking hazard for players.  Of course, no such claim can be made of the Sikh turban.  In any case the issue appeared to have been resovled by a medical report commissioned by FIFA that was conducted and released last week by its team of trained specialists.

The Quebec Soccer Federation has repeatedly insisted that its regulations are parallel to those in place at the international level. Previous decisions to ban the hijab and turban in Quebec were justified by the claim that FIFA had yet to formally approved head scarves and turbans, and that the organization forbid display of religious symbols.

Other provinces, including Alberta and Ontario, currently allow both the turban and head scarves during play.

Despite FIFA’s recent stamp of approval, the ban on the hijab and turban continue in Quebec soccer. In a statement released by the Quebec Soccer Federation, spokesperson Michel Dugas affirmed that  until a specific design is approved by FIFA, the changes will not be adopted. Marc St.Amour, the director of Gatineau’s tournaments, echoed this sentiment by stating that until the international organization approves a design, colour and material for headscarves during matches, "scarves of all sorts" will remain banned.

It’s disheartening to think of how many children, teens and adults, will be refused the opportunity to play in the interim period. Many will likely miss out on the opportunity to participate in upcoming seasons for both summer and fall.

What’s more, the implications for players of the Sikh faith remain unclear. Despite the official lifting of the ban on the hijab, no mention of the turban has been made. What will this mean for Sikhs?

In light of these considerations, and because of the problems the QSF’s decisions currently present for these individuals, the WSO sent a letter to Minister of State, Bal Gosal, last month. Players like Aneel and Royanne, as well as their families, need a clear voice of support in condemning the provincial authority’s position as one that is unacceptable. The marginalization of these children is based on their wearing religious articles of their faith, and needs to be corrected so that such instances of exclusion do not happen again. We are still, however, awaiting a response.

In any case, it is already too late for young Sikhs in Quebec, whose soccer season began at the end of May.

What message is the exclusion of the hijab and turban sending to young Muslim and Sikh players?  What implications do such exclusions have on the rest of society? 

As Salam Elmenyawi, spokesperson for the Muslim Council of Montreal, has stated “The rule-change is too little too late because now you have a generation of girls who have given up on the sport. They’ve missed out on an aspect of their childhood and they’ve been made to feel different, to feel inferior because of their religion.”

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