The Globe and Mail – May 2, 2012
The idea for Montrealer Elham Seyed Javad’s sports hijab was born during the acrimony of Quebec’s reasonable accommodation debate. Now, it could become the debate’s global contribution to soccer.
The Montrealer’s prototype has already picked up praise, raising the possibility the Canadian-made creation could ease the way for Muslim women to participate in the world’s most popular sport.
Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan, elected a vice-president at FIFA last year, began spearheading a campaign to reverse the organization’s 2007 ban on the headscarf, which it considers a safety concern during games. When she heard about it, Ms. Seyed Javad contacted the Jordanian royal. FIFA is seeking a headscarf that opens easily if it’s pulled, to prevent choking. A design presented to FIFA by a Dutch company uses Velcro to fasten the hijab; Ms. Seyed Javad’s design, the ResportOn Pro Release, uses lightweight magnets. If approved, the change would impact the lives of thousands of Muslim women, from elite national players to girls in community leagues in Canada and elsewhere.
Industrial designer Elham Seyed Javad has taken up the cause begun in 2007 when a Muslim girl was barred from a soccer match for wearing a hijab. Then, five Muslim girls were ejected from a tae kwon do tournament for the same reason. “I was so distressed when I learned about it,” Seyed Javad said. “Your beliefs shouldn’t prevent you from playing sports.” So, the 26-year-old University of Montreal graduate designed a sleek sports hijab, which fits tightly around the head and is part of a sports shirt underneath.
Seyed Javad, who is Muslim but doesn’t wear a hijab herself, emphasizes that her “Resport” is more than a hijab. It can be used by anyone, male or female, who needs to keep their hair in check during their activities. They were tested by some Muslim athletes at a martial arts tournament last weekend and passed with flying colours, Seyed Javad said. The problem of headscarves in sports is that sometimes the ends come untucked, even though athletes try to pin them inside a shirt.
Under the rules, swimmers — including non-Muslims — are barred from entering the pool in normal swimming attire. Instead they are told that they must comply with the “modest” code of dress required by Islamic custom, with women covered from the neck to the ankles and men, who swim separately, covered from the navel to the knees.
The phenomenon runs counter to developments in France, where last week a woman was evicted from a public pool for wearing a burkini — the headscarf, tunic and trouser outfit which allows Muslim women to preserve their modesty in the water.
But across the UK municipal pools are holding swimming sessions specifically aimed at Muslims, in some case imposing strict dress codes. Swimmers were told last week on the centre’s website that “during special Muslim sessions male costumes must cover the body from the navel to the knee and females must be covered from the neck to the ankles and wrists”.
Labour MP Anne Cryer, whose Keighley, West Yorkshire constituency has a large number of Muslims, said: “Unfortunately this kind of thing has a negative impact on community relations. It’s seen as yet another demand for special treatment. I can’t see why special clothing is needed for what is a single-sex session.”
Muslim women in the northern Italian province of Bergamo will now have private access to a local swimming pool, where they are able to swim freely without traditional clothing and without the company of men. At the Siloe pool, men are not permitted to swim at designated times each week, when women’s-only hours are in effect. During such times, Muslim women can swim without their veils, burqas, or other garments usually worn in the company of non-relative males. The Siloe pool is owned by the diocese of Bergamo, who made the arrangement with local Muslim women; but the pool is also open to all Italian women during designated times.
Top Sevilla player Frederic Kanoute has admitted that he has suffered racial and religious insults from other players in the Spanish league because of his skin color and religion. Kanoute, who is from Mali and Muslim, commented in an interview with the ‘Don Balon’ magazine saying that people should not generalize Muslims. Kanoute said that he never felt that religion or skin color was an issue during his time playing for the UK, but they have become a subject of frequent insult in Sevilla.
Muslim footballer Sulley Ali Muntari has been receiving positive response from Italian Muslims, after celebrating a recent goal by performing a prostration to God during an important Italian football match. Muntari, who was born in Ghana, plays for Italy’s Inter Milan, and scored the winning goal against Juventus.
A supporter of Muntari said that they commented Muntari not just for team support, but because he “reminded all of us how you honor Allah, even on a football field.” “We are certain that Muntari’s example will be important for thousands of young Muslims that make up an important part of the sport in Italy,” said Hamza Piccardo, the director of Islam-Online Italy.
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A multi-faith football (soccer) league has been recently organized by an Islamic Center in the city of Milan. The league intended to see several teams vie for the “mosque cup” in the Milan stadium. Eight teams from across the northern Lombardy province completed in a one-day competition organized by the mosque. The initiative is part of celebrations marking the 20th anniversary of its Al-Rahman mosque – the first mosque built in Italy. Teams represented local mosques, Catholic churches, and one team was comprised of inter-faith members.
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About 150 immigrants from Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh are expected to take part in a cricket tournament in Palermo. Palermo Councillor Giampiero Cannella said “the tournament is part of a municipal initiative in order to foment a real and concrete integration of immigrants that have chosen to live in Sicily, between them and Sicilians.” He continued saying that the tournament is an opportunity for Italians to get to know the game as an introduction to a sport popular to many of the city’s inhabitants, and for the immigrant community to be “able to practice the sport of their country of origin.”
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Residents of Calgary, Alberta will now be allowed to swim in city pools wearing saris, hijabs and other clothing deemed “religious” in a new policy designed to encourage the participation of ethnic and religious minorities. For safety reasons, saris will be banned from the deep end. The city´s superintendent for aquatics and fitness stated that the policy clarifies what before had been a grey area, typically handled on a case-by-case basis. Ms. Bruce stated, “We wanted to make sure that everyone feels comfortable and they can participate with dignity when they use our facilities.” Clothing must be clean and swimmers must shower in the garments before entering the pool.
Similarly, last winter, the Alberta Soccer Association changed its rules to, like in the provinces of British Colombia and Ontario, allow female soccer players to wear the hijab while playing. The headscarf is banned on Québec soccer fields.
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A 21 year-old woman who works at the YMCA in Montreal has been permitted to wear a “burquini” as a lifeguard at a local sports complex. The young woman had filed a complaint with the Human Rights Board when the centre refused to allow her to wear a hijab when working at the pool. Previously the pool complex had installed tinted glass windows to accommodate women’s requests for privacy. The centre’s administration decided that the burkini, a headscarf made of polyester materials that cover the hair completely, would be the best alternative.