Hijab row in Tae Kwon Do

Tournament organisers told team officials the girls could not compete because the head scarves posed a safety risk.


It is the second ban of hijabs in Quebec sports in recent months, part of a larger debate in the province about accommodations for cultural and religious minorities.

International referee Stephane Menard said the decision was made at a referees’ meeting earlier in the day.

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

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 head scarf. The move was supported by soccer associations, citing security concerns.

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

The Muslim centre’s boys club pulled out of the tournament in an act of solidarity.

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

Team coach Mahdi Sbeiti said he does not understand why his team is 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,” Mr Sbeiti said. “I don’t see why it should be a problem here and now.”

Mr Sbeiti says his team has often been cited as an example of cultural integration but suspects the political atmosphere played a role in the decision.

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.

The Canadian Council of American-Islamic Relations said the Tae Kwon Do decision will not encourage Muslim women to participate in sports.

“With Azzy Mansour being kicked off a Quebec soccer field for wearing the hijab, and five girls today being ejected from the Longueuil tae kwan do tournament, it seems that Muslim women now have to make a choice between their faith and sport,” said Sarah Elgazzar, CAIR-CAN spokeswoman.

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