Update on the Use of Religious Headwear during Soccer Matches

We have been following this issue since it first arose in 2012, when the Quebec Soccer Federation (QSF) issued a rule prohibiting its players from wearing turbans and other religious headgear.  This discriminatory ban prompted the Canadian Soccer Association to suspend the QSF’s membership with the national body in April, 2013, thereby denying them the ability to compete at, participate in, or host competitions either provincially or nationally.

In a June 2013 blogpost we outlined the jurisdictional, human rights and communication issues related to the QSF decision and discussed the consequences of the CSA’s response.  The QSF ultimately rescinded their ban on turbans, resulting in their suspension being lifted by the CSA.

However, despite rescinding their ban, the QSF continued to maintain that their decision was not discriminatory in nature, but was one that was made out of safety concerns for their players. This safety issue has been an ongoing debate amongst those involved, and as we discussed in our June newsletter, compelling empirical evidence is required to make such an argument, not just anecdotal observations.

Now, finally there has been an official announcement made by the international governing body (FIFA) that clearly states their position on the matter.  This announcement came on Saturday, March 1, 2014 when the Secretary General of FIFA stated at a press conference that “it was decided that the players could have their heads covered for play”.

FIFA says they have conducted a twenty-month study wherein they concluded that the risks of sport injuries from turbans, hijabs and kippas were not significant and did not justify a ban. It is not yet known how this study was conducted, or how the decision will be implemented or communicated to the varying levels of soccer organizations, but FIFA has indicated that it does intend to communicate the details of their decision.

FIFA’s decision could not have come at a more opportune time, as Canada is set to host the 2014 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup this summer (August 5 to August 24) in Montreal, Toronto, Edmonton and Moncton.  It is expected that teams from 16 nations are going to attend. We will be watching to see the world"s reaction should players show up at the tournament with religious headwear, if any injuries occur as a result, or if anyone decides to protest this most recent decision.

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