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Quebec soccer body awaits directives before lifting head-scarf ban

Elham Seyed Javad wears her design for a sports hijab in Montreal, May 1, 2012. Her design is in competition to become the headscarf chosen by FIFA, which is lifting its ban on the head coverings in soccer.

Christinne Muschi/Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail

Despite receiving a nudge from Canada's national soccer body to lift its ban on the hijab, the Quebec Soccer Federation says it will uphold the restriction until international guidelines are released in October.

"We're waiting for the model that [the International Football Association Board] will decide," QSF spokesperson Michel Dugas said.

On July 6, the IFAB overturned its own ban on players wearing head scarves, instituted in 2007, for a trial period until designs, colours and materials are established at the organization's annual general meeting in October. The organization said on its website that "there is no medical literature concerning injuries as a result of wearing a head scarf."

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The Canadian Soccer Association's head referee has called for Quebec to fall in line with the new rules from the IFAB, which includes members of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA).

Mr. Dugas said the Quebec Soccer Federation has no specific concerns about safety, but will await the new directives before allowing women to play wearing head scarves. "When they gave their decision last week, they said in October they will give the rest of the rules, so we are waiting," Mr. Dugas said.

The province has been in the spotlight since the ban was instituted in 2007, the year an Ottawa soccer team pulled out of a tournament in Laval when an 11-year-old player was asked to remove her head scarf. Last weekend, a nine-year-old girl was sidelined from a tournament in Gatineau for the same reason. The rules of soccer are governed internationally by FIFA and nationally by the Canadian Soccer Association, which hands down rules to each provincial soccer arm. Referees make the final call regarding safety on a game-by-game basis at the amateur and recreational level, CSA deputy general secretary Joe Guest said.

"Now, the question is, is [the hijab] safe or not? The referee is in his right to say, 'I don't picture that to be safe,' " Mr. Guest said, adding that the same rules apply to headbands, knee braces or other items that could injure another player. Concerns about the hijab were about choking and pulling, he said.

"That will be a point that will be subjective until October."

Players are allowed to wear religious headgear in most provinces. In 2005, the Ontario Soccer Association amended its rules to allow religious headgear as long as it did not impede the safety of players. The ban in British Columbia was overturned that same year after a boy was kicked out of a Vancouver-area game because of his patka, a turban Sikh children wear.

In 2007, the Alberta Soccer Association changed its rules after instituting a month-long ban.

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"The basic decision was that we shouldn't be denying the chance to play, if at all possible," Alberta Soccer Association executive director Richard Adams said, adding that since 2007, he was aware of one instance where a referee decided not to allow an individual to play.

"We did have one call from a concerned parent wanting to make sure [their child was]wearing the proper hijab, where they were being more proactive," he said. "Now that they've developed the sport hijabs, it's not really a question any more."

With guidelines for a sports hijab under way, FIFA is also on the hunt for a prototype. In April, Montreal-based designer Elham Seyed Javad travelled to Zurich to pitch her design, which uses lightweight magnets to fasten the garment.

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