It's starting to look as if the veil fracas in the U.K. is being replayed in Canada. Sunday, five Muslim girls withdrew from a tae kwon do tournament in Quebec after organizers banned competitors from wearing hijabs; the officials determined that "the Muslim headscarves posed a safety risk," reports the Associated Press.
International referee Stephane Menard told the AP that the hijab is not included in "the equipment that is allowed under the world Tae Kwon Do federation rules." She continued, "We applied the rules to the letter." The funny thing, though, is that the girls -- between 8 and 12 years old -- have competed in tournaments throughout Quebec without incident. Sarah Elgazzar, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations, said in a press release, "It's odd how the same Quebec taekwondo federation that has seen youth in hijab compete for five years is now claiming that Muslim women in hijab are banned ... it seems that Muslim women now have to make a choice between their faith and sport."
It does seem a little suspect that the hijab has been suddenly deemed a "safety hazard." To be clear, we aren't talking about a full face veil, but a scarf that covers the girls' hair and neck. If you question whether the hijab allows for athleticism, consider award-winning Bahraini sprinter Ruqaya Al Ghasara, who wears a head scarf and full bodysuit. Or, check out this photo of some rough-and-tumble female footballers. Adding to the dubiousness of the "safety" claim is Quebec's recent veil controversy, currently at a fever pitch. In February, an 11-year-old girl was banned from a soccer game after refusing to remove her head scarf. And just last month, women wearing veils were banned from local polling places.
Don't get me wrong: Raising questions about the appropriateness of the hijab in sports does seem reasonable. For good reason, very few sports leagues will let players wear just whatever they damn well please. There may be times when the hijab is a genuine hazard, but, especially given Quebec's current political climate, you'd be hard-pressed to convince me this is one of those cases.