As the story points out, the precedent was in 2000, when Afghanistan was barred from participating in the Sydney Games due to the Taliban-led government practice of barring women from participating – again, based on a particular interpretation of religious texts. Mind you, women were not the only targets. In 2000, the Taliban arrested members of a visiting Pakistani men’s soccer team for wearing shorts that it said violated an “Islamic dress code.” Even the Saudi men’s soccer team wear shorts.
Lorna Dueck: I was shocked this week when the American sport machine did not crush what can’t help but be labelled faith hypocrisy for what just went on in Houston, where an Orthodox Jewish school team was nearly prevented from playing in its basketball playoffs because of a game scheduled during their Sabbath. This is a zone where games are not played on Sundays out of respect for Christian worship – I would have thought America’s vocal faith and sport culture would have easily adjusted to this Jewish concern but, sadly, not.
Guy Nicholson: Reminiscent of the situation faced by Jewish baseball stars Hank Greenberg, Sandy Koufax and Shawn Green, who were all roundly criticized for missing important games on Yom Kippur.
Howard Voss-Altman: Ah, but Sandy Koufax, in particular, will forever be revered in the Jewish community for putting his tradition ahead of baseball. It is one of the great moments in American Jewish history. That being said, the recent failed drug test by Ryan Braun [ since overturned]will go down as one of our most disappointing moments.
I was shocked by the case Lorna raises as well. There was never any doubt that the school could not play a game during the Sabbath and, in a state like Texas, where religion is treated with the utmost importance, I would have thought that such accommodations would have been easily made. The tournament’s organizers should have planned this well in advance. It was negligent at best, and downright discriminatory at worst.
Sheema Khan: You don’t have to go all the way to the U.S. We have had a number of instances where girls have been kicked off the soccer field in Quebec for wearing the hijab. Yes, there are safety concerns, and these should be taken seriously. Yet, there are “sports” hijabs, and ways of wearing them to ensure safety. I play soccer myself, and have been mindful of never wearing pins with a hijab. I have never had any problems playing recreationally. FIFA, however, is at a crossroads – it wants to encourage women to play soccer, but has sent mixed signals about the permissibility of wearing the hijab. (Although a resolution now looks promising.) Same for tae kwon do – one of the two world federations allows it, the other does not.
Sports provide a beautiful opportunity for healthy development in all aspects. Why deny someone the opportunity because of their religious beliefs?
Guy Nicholson: One more question. Hockey has the Devils, football has the Saints, and baseball has the Angels and Padres. (Sorry, Howard, the World Series champs just aren’t those kind of Cardinals.) If you owned a sports franchise, what religious-themed nickname would you propose?
Lorna Dueck: “The Monks.” Everything begins for me in getting quiet enough to hear God.
Peter Stockland: I would grab “Les Glorieux,” but alas it’s already taken and remains in place, despite the dismal year my hockey heart’s delight are having. How about “The Genuflects,” since all sports requires that we bow but not break?
Howard Voss-Altman: Perhaps, in the spirit of our holidays, I would name them “The Passovers.” After all, to be successful in any sport, one must “pass over” your opponent.
Sheema Khan: I would suggest “The Strivers,” because it reflects what so many athletes do. It encompasses perseverance, heart and sportsmanship. In Arabic, the term is mujahed, which is a popular team name in Muslim recreational sports leagues. The root, jahada, means to strive. It forms the root of that well-known but most misunderstood term jihad, which means “striving” and encompasses all of life’s struggles. Unfortunately, it has been pigeonholed to connote “holy war.”
Guy Nicholson: The non-religious moderator might borrow a nickname from a popular animated TV show: “ The Isotopes.”
That’s all the time we have today – thanks, panelists, for a fascinating and thoroughly different discussion.