Local soccer association and Muslim council unite to back Safaa Menhem

Alberta’s minister of recreation said Monday he backs a referee’s decision to ban a 14-year-old Calgary girl from playing soccer while wearing a hijab. But local soccer and Muslim associations plan to ask the provincial body that governs the sport to reverse its stance and allow religious headgear.

In a letter to the Alberta Soccer Association, which sets the rules for competition within Alberta, the Calgary Minor Soccer Association said the rule had been inconsistently applied and it asked for clear guidance on whether players can wear hijabs during games. “We’re hoping they give some leniency to the rules and allow a player with a hijab to play,” said executive director Daryl Leinweber. Soccer’s accessibility would be damaged if hijabs were banned, Leinweber said. “At a local level, should that exclude a player from playing soccer?” he said. “I don’t think so.”

Nagah Hage, chairman of the Muslim Council of Calgary, said he plans to file a similar letter with the Alberta association. “It’s not hard to see that it’s just another attack against a Muslim woman,” he said. Hage said he’d never heard of any safety concerns related to hijabs, adding other headgear is a regular part of other sports. There’s a remote chance someone would pull a hijab and injure a player, he said, but there’s potential for injury throughout soccer. “There’s a possibility of missing the ball and kicking someone with your foot,” he said.

Calgary Herald, 27 November 2007