This week the Lac St. Louis Regional Soccer Association fired a 15-year old referee for wearing a hijab on the job. According to the CBC, Sarah Benkirane has been working as a referee for the past two years, but was fired from her job this week after a complaint was filed with the association.
The Lac St. Louis Regional Soccer Association and the Quebec Soccer Federation stand by their ruling, which is supported by FIFA, the international body governing soccer. The Quebec Soccer Federation issued a statement (in French) saying that FIFA’s Rule 4 sets out the rules with regards to uniforms and that the hijab is not in line with those rules. In his statement to the media, President Dino Madonis goes back and forth between indicating that the hijab is not allowed because it isn’t part of the basic equipment, isn’t allowed for safety reasons, and isn’t allowed because it is a religious symbol.
This is not the first time this has happened. Earlier this month, Care2 blogger Kristina Chew wrote about FIFA banning the Iranian Women’s soccer team from an Olympic qualifier match because the players were wearing the hijab. In her article, she also mentions numerous other incidents, including one in the United States last year and another one in Canada in 2007. In each instance, FIFA has stood by its ruling and enforced the hijab ban.
Discussions about wearing hijabs in schools and government offices in Quebec, France and other jurisdictions have also raised questions about whether the hijab is a religious symbol or simply an obligation. Those who seek to ban the hijab say that it is a religious symbol, just like the Christian cross or Jewish Star of David. Others, however, argue that the hijab isn’t a religious symbol; it’s a religious obligation. Many religions and cultures have obligations or expectations with regards to modest dress that do not necessarily amount to a religious symbol.
Since interest in playing soccer competitively appears to be increasing among Muslim women, perhaps it is time for FIFA and Muslim groups to work together to design and implement a sports-specific hijab that would be safe and could be matched to team uniforms. Soccer players have told by FIFA that they could wear a specific type of cap. However, Muslim women indicated that it would not be acceptable because it didn’t hide their neck. Without a change in policy at FIFA, Muslim women who feel obligated to wear the hijab will essentially be banned from playing soccer because of it. This allegedly goes beyond banning of religious symbols and steps into discrimination against women and against Muslims.
What do you think? Is there room for to incorporate a sports-safe hijab into the soccer world?
Photo credit: shawnzrossi on flickr