CTV Montreal exclusive: Soccer referee sidelined for wearing hijab
Published Saturday, June 18, 2011 6:08PM EDT
MONTREAL - A former Lac St. Louis soccer referee is blowing the whistle on rules she said prevent her from practising her religion.
Sarah Benkirane, 15, was told after two years of refereeing for the soccer association that she was out of a job, after a complaint surfaced over her wearing her hijab while calling games.
"For me it's not really an option to take it off," she explained of her traditional Muslim head scarf. "It's part of my religion. It's part of who i am. It's the way I express myself, so I think I should be allowed to wear it as long as I'm not causing any harm to anybody else and I'm not."
Under Rule 4 of the FIFA guidelines, which govern the Lac St. Louis Soccer Association, players must not only avoid wearing any item which threatens to cause choking or injury, but also "must not have any political, religious or personal statements."
All rules for players also pertain to referees under FIFA rules.
Edouard St. Lo, executive director of the Lac St. Louis Soccer Association said he agrees with the regulations.
"It's not just safety, because it does talk about political, religious and any kind of personal feeling that the person wants to display on the field. That's why they're all wearing the same thing," he said.
Some soccer parents agree with the call.
"I think that we made these rules and we can't break them… we break it for this what are we going to break it for next?" said one mother.
"For instance, she cannot play with her earrings. She has to wear some Scotch tape (over them) because she had her ears pierced and everybody respects the rules simply. They are safety rules," said another.
Benkirane has drawn support from some parents, who have signed a petition allowing her to referee.
"Absolutely she should be able to wear it --it's her choice," said one mother.
The former referee said her hijab is not a safety issue, because it is worn without pins and is tucked into her shirt.
FIFA's refusal to overturn its position on hijabs is having an international impact. The Iranian womens' soccer team was disqualified from Olympic tryouts because players wore hijbas and not the approved caps.
Benkirane said the caps don't respect Islamic custom.
"For us, it's also about hiding the neck, so a cap would leave the neck open. So no, I don't think that's an option," she said.