Muslims grumble at Quebec soccer hijab ban

By Scott Valentine Wed Mar 7, 11:29 AM ET

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canadian Muslims may launch a human rights complaint against soccer's governing body after a Quebec referee ordered an 11-year-old girl to quit a tournament for refusing to remove her hijab.

The Canadian Council on American-Islam Relations said the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) was sending a mixed message on its rules, given that its own Web site includes pictures of women wearing the hijab, a scarf that covers the head and neck.

"If FIFA does not provide a clear position on the right of women to wear the hijab in competition we will look at the possibility of filing a human rights complaint on behalf of Muslim women who want to play soccer, and not be persecuted for practicing their beliefs," said executive director Karl Nickner.

The 11-year-old girl, Asmahan Mansour, was ordered off the field by a Muslim referee during an indoor soccer tournament in the Montreal suburb of Laval, Quebec, on February 25 after refusing to remove her hijab.

FIFA spokesman Pekka Odriozola said it was up to regional and national associations to decide how to interpret soccer's Law 4, which says a player must not "use equipment or wear anything that is dangerous to himself/herself or another player."

"But each match official must decide how to apply the rules," he added.

The law, as displayed on FIFA's Web site, also says "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,"

Odriozola could not explain why the Web site included photos of players wearing the hijab.

"(The International Football Association Board) determined last weekend that anything related to players equipment is covered under Law 4 of the rules of the game," he said. "In official matches the laws of the game have to be applied."

That seems like foul play to Nickner of the Canadian Muslim group.

"FIFA backed the decision to support the Quebec referee in prohibiting a player from wearing the hijab," he said. "Yet the FIFA Web site shows pictures of women players wearing a hijab."

This is not the first incident involving soccer players ejected from a game for wearing religious headgear in Canada.

In 2005 a Sikh player was told to remove his patka head covering at a soccer tournament in Langley, British Columbia, prompting the cancellation of several games.

After that incident, the president of the B.C. Soccer Association said that there were no rules banning religious headgear from the sport.

Other Canadian provinces, including Ontario, also allow women players to wear the hijab.