Soccer Referee Fired for Wearing Hijab

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


Annmari Lundin
Annmari Lundin5 years ago

The day I can walk without a hijab or burkha in Iran or Saudi-Arabia., the day I and any woman can drive a car in Saudi-Arabia, that's the day I accept muslims wearing niqabs/burhkas in western societies!
But as long as my culture isn't respected in those (and several more) countries, I'm not willing to be intimidated by fully covered islamic females intruding on me! If the rules, that applies to all participators, don't fit, do something else and stop demanding that we adapt to your medieval practices!

Lika S.
Lika S5 years ago

Oh, and it just seems like as a country with pride in the matter of being a world hub within our own borders, that we are surely discriminating against women, Muslims, and people of Middle Eastern descent, all in one shot.

Because some would complain about some women's choice in athletic shirts, would anyone make a rule about women's softball be played topless? Of course not. So why go against someone's culture/religion this way?

Lika S.
Lika S5 years ago

When were the rules made about it? How do we know that this young lady wore one the last two years and then because of a complaint, changed the rules and fired her?

There's nothing wrong with having a teen ref.

Linda Tonner
Linda Tonner5 years ago

@ Mike C. Firstly, you use the phrase 'you libs' like they are dirty words and I bet that's how you mean them to sound, but seeing how good your reading comprehension is, it makes me laugh instead!

I don't know about child labour laws in Canada, but I don't think OUR ACLU has any say in the matter! Reread the article!

Whether there are child labour laws or not, I wouldn't think running around on a soccer field for a couple of hours a week is any more hard work, than doing a paper route! Out in the fresh air, not DOWN IN A MINE, OR IN A COTTON MILL! You are ridiculous, and as Ameer said, if it's good enough for the military to change rules to suit certain circumstances, surely it doesn't matter about a juvenile game with 11 people chasing a ball for 90 minutes!

Ameer T.
Ameer T5 years ago

i dont understand the idiots who claim that wearing the hijab is oppressive to women while banning them from sport is not discriminatory? Why all this focus on muslims only? Sikhs have worn their turbans in all sports for ever. Even the Indian and American army made changes to their dress code rules to allow the Sikhs to wear turbans instead of the beret. But no one reported that here or anywhere. But when it comes to muslims who have become the scape goats of the new civilised world, everything about their beliefs and pratices is on the table by the rest of the world.

Rules are for people not people for rules. If the Army can reconsider their rules of dress and change them for the Sikhs, why can't the rules be changed here. People stress rules and cite laws as if these were divine and unchangable. If you were truely sincere about promoting women in the playplaces, you would be more flexible, more open, more tolerant. you can't cry about women being oppressed and suppressed in Islam and then do the same to them when you also get a chance.

William Y.
William Y5 years ago

@ Mike C. I wasn't taking sides, I just stated that Elizabeth made an interesting point.

Mike Chrissie
Mike Chrissie5 years ago

William, how do you know this was not the first time she had one? why not question child labor laws, don't think 13 years olds in most states can be employees, maybe the ACLU ought to look into working 13 year olds being employed
Next you libs will want to change the rules of tennis.
Get real, rules are rules

Virginia C.
Virginia C5 years ago

By banning the hijab or headscarf soccer is discriminating against women. Women who have chosen to cover their hair are not going to be able to remove their hijab and thus they will no longer be able to play or ref for the sport. Sports are so important for health and fun and no one should be prevented from participating due to a small article of clothing!

William Y.
William Y5 years ago

Elizabeth K. says, "I haven't seen anyone address the fact that she was not fired for 2 years, until there was a complaint. So apparently she was doing a good job and no one cared for 2 years."

Interesting point

Jennifer Griffith

Will R.: A hijab does NOT cover the face, only the top of the head & the neck. If a Jewish referee wanted to wear a kippah (yarmulke) or similar head covering, would that also be banned; would he also be dismissed? Marie: No, I agree that it's not required, but if a person's level of observance means that they personally feel they should wear a head covering, that shouldn't be grounds for firing. Some Jewish women wear a type of wig as a head covering. Same thing - it shouldn't disqualify them from a job. Some of the bigoted comments I see here are downright frightening! We Jews had to deal with similar crap just a few decades ago; before that, it was Catholics, & before that, Chinese, etc. Remember that we were all once strangers in this land (except for the Native peoples, of course).