Quebec teen told she can't referee soccer with hijab on
The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, June 22, 2011 7:02AM EDT
MONTREAL - A Quebec teen who has been told she can no longer referee soccer while wearing her hijab says she's going to fight the red card.
Sarah Benkirane, 15, said her Montreal-area soccer association informed her she could no longer referee games wearing her traditional Muslim head scarf after someone filed a complaint with the league.
Benkirane, in her second season as a ref for the Lac-St-Louis Regional Soccer Association, was told religious symbols like hijabs may not be worn on the pitch.
But the teenager insists she's not going to give up on her summer job that easily.
"I was kind of frustrated, but right away I started to think, 'OK, this is my chance, if they want to rule (on) this then I'm going to fight it -- for sure,' " Benkirane said in an interview Tuesday.
"I grew up with friends from every different culture and nobody's ever discriminated against (me) because of religion."
Benkirane said she's contacted the Council on American-Islamic Relations CANADA and plans to put pressure on the Canadian Soccer Association to force Quebec's governing soccer body to overturn its decision.
The president of the Quebec Soccer Federation told reporters Tuesday it's simply applying FIFA's international rules, which stipulate referees and players may not wear religious symbols on the pitch.
"It's clearly stated that officials shall not display commercial, religious. . . or personal messages of any language," Dino Madonis told a news conference.
The Quebec federation also issued a statement Tuesday to defend its ruling.
"Therefore the situation is clear! Wearing a hijab is not permitted on Quebec's soccer fields, not any more than necklaces, earrings, rings and such, and won't be until FIFA gives directives to the contrary," the statement said.
Quebec, which was ground zero a few years ago for the debate on the "reasonable accommodation" of minorities, has also seen several disputes in recent years over hijabs worn during athletics.
In 2007, an 11-year-old Ottawa girl was ejected from a soccer game in Laval, Que., after she refused to remove her hijab, which violated FIFA's no-headgear rule.
That year, a taekwondo team of Muslim girls withdrew from a tournament in Longueuil, Que., after they were told they couldn't compete in their hijabs.
Still, Quebec isn't alone when it comes to the debate over hijabs and sports.
In 2007, a soccer player wearing a hijab was ejected from a game in Calgary over safety concerns, a decision that came just weeks after an 11-year-old girl left a Winnipeg judo tournament in tears when officials refused to let her fight in a head scarf.
Benkirane said she was well aware of previous controversies surrounding athletes who were banned from playing certain sports in hijabs due to security reasons.
But she thought her situation was different.
"Refs don't have any contact with the other players, so I figured that there's no danger," she said.
"They've changed what they're saying and now they start saying it's a religious symbol -- back then it was about safety."