Much ink has been spilled in my part of the world since a soccer referee ruled that an 11-year-old female soccer player could not participate in a tournament unless she removed her hijab. Apparently, he applied a month-old directive of the Quebec soccer federation that specified that “the Islamic veil and any other religious object” is not permitted on the soccer field.
According to several other sources, this directive was a confirmation of a FIFA ruling that bans headgear on the grounds that it is a source of danger. Why then can I not find it anywhere?
Pressured by the furore, the IFAB (those that make the rules that FIFA enforces) discussed the matter within the confines of their planned rule-revision meeting a week later. Despite the headlines claiming a ruling against the hijab, the board in fact didn’t rule at all, preferring to say that their “basic equipment rule – number 4” already covers the matter. It says: “A player must not use equipment or wear anything that is dangerous to himself or another player (including any kind of jewellery).”
So what does all this mean? Is the hijab (or a Sikh turban for that matter, or a yarmulke) dangerous or not? If the danger cannot be proven, what conclusions can we draw about the IFAB decision, the Quebec federation directive, and the referee’s ruling?
Intentions were recently mentioned in Resistance’s post, “no intent = no problem”. For those who are still not quite clear on the subject, I quote from a teaching resource from the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, aimed at elementary schoolchildren:
“What’s important is not the intention, but rather the impact of our actions.”
So basically, if a board of white middle-aged men decides that head coverings can be deemed dangerous (action), Muslim women, Sikh and Jewish men will no longer have the opportunity to play soccer (impact).
Considering that their headgear is not just some whim but a fundamental part of their identity, it looks very much to me like a case of indirect religious discrimination.
And this is ironic in light of the fact that FIFA has a code of ethics from which I quote: “Article 6: Ban on discrimination – Officials, players and players’ agents may not act in a discriminatory manner, especially with regard to ethnicity, race, culture, politics, religion, gender or language.”