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Event ousts girls over headwear

Mon., April 16, 2007, midnight

MONTREAL – A team of mainly Muslim girls was forced to pull out of a Tae Kwon Do tournament near Montreal Sunday because its members refused to remove their hijabs.

In the second such incident in Quebec sports this year, tournament organizers told team officials the girls could not compete because the Muslim headscarves posed a safety risk.

International referee Stephane Menard said the decision was made at a referee’s meeting earlier in the day because hijabs are not listed under allowed equipment.

“The equipment that is allowed under the world Tae Kwon Do federation rules doesn’t include the hijab,” Menard said Sunday. “We applied the rules to the letter.”

The Tae Kwon Do team, made up of girls between 8 and 12 years old, is affiliated with a Muslim community center in Montreal. Five of the team’s six players wear a hijab but have been allowed to participate in similar tournaments around Quebec.

Team coach Mahdi Sbeiti says his team has often been cited as an example of cultural integration but suspects a changing political atmosphere played a role in the decision. Quebec has been embroiled in recent months in a debate about to what extent accommodations should be made for cultural and religious minorities.

Ahead of provincial elections last month, government officials ruled that Muslim women had to remove their face coverings if they wanted to vote to allow for proper identification.

In February, an 11-year-old Muslim girl from Ontario participating in a soccer tournament in Quebec was pulled from the field after she refused the referee’s request to remove her headscarf. The move was supported by soccer associations, citing safety concerns.

The Muslim center’s boys club pulled out of Sunday’s tournament in an act of solidarity.

“I’m very upset,” said Bissan Mansour, one of the team members. “We made so many efforts and practiced harder than usual to be here.”

Sbeiti said he did not understand why his team was being barred now, especially since many of the referees were familiar.

“On the international scene, many teams from Muslim countries wear the hijab and have never had such a problem,” Sbeiti said. “I don’t see why it should be a problem here and now.”

The Canadian Council of American-Islamic Relations said Sunday’s decision will not encourage Muslim women to participate in sports.

“This recent fixation on the hijab is only serving to marginalize Muslim women who wish to participate in athletic activity,” the Ottawa-based organization said.


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