KAMLOOPS - Soccer rules are not made to be broken, according to FIFA and many referees around the world, but in the Kamloops Women's Soccer League concessions are being to accommodate religious wear.
The issue was raised last week when Stainer U player May Alnuhanna showed up late for a game and teammates asked her to come onto the field. The referee turned her away, stating she was not allowed on the field if she was not in shorts.
Alnuhanna was in her traditional Muslim pants and headdress, which are worn as part of modesty standards of the faith. Her teammates see nothing wrong with what she wears and no other teams had complained about her choice of gear either, in fact some are amazed by her ability to play in full dress while they sweat it out in shorts and T-shirts.
Shorts are one of the five items listed by FIFA rules as a uniform requirement, as is a jersey or shirt with sleeves, stockings (socks), shinguards and footwear. There are also rules dictating that all jewelry be removed, no bobby pins or clips be in your hair and sleeves can not be rolled up. Referees are to inspect all items of clothing or equipment, other than the basic five items, to determine whether they are safe are not.
This was the first game a referee had asked her to put on shorts this season and it was also the first time the issue of religious clothing has been brought to the attention of the league president and the referee association.
League president Paula Hoffman says this is the first time she has personally heard of an incident around religious dress and because she plays in a different tier than Stainer U (there are three levels in the women's league) she had not met Alnuhanna or realized she was not in shorts while on the field.
“This was a brand new incident,” Hoffman says, “(Other refs) were just letting her play (but) this ref was caught unaware and if you don't know what to do you hold true to the rules. You go with what you know. He did the best he could.”
The referee had contacted the association immediately following the Thursday night game and on Sunday Hoffman met with them to discuss the issue. The decision was quickly made to allow Alnuhanna to play in pants as long as she wears shorts over top. Her head gear, which has nothing pinning it in place, was never an issue Hoffman says.
“I want to see women in soccer (and) we're happy to have her play,” Hoffman says, “(but) rules are rules. We have to make sure everyone is safe.”
On Tuesday players in the recreational league said they are used to the rules being upheld to a strict level but were surprised by the decision to not let her play on Thursday because she was in pants instead of shorts and felt the referee had gone a bit too far in that call.
Longtime player and former executive member Teresa Wallace was on the sidelines in the game against Stainer U when Alnuhanna was not permitted on the field. She did not realize what happened at first but notes in previous games against the team the pants had not been an issue.
Wallace, who plays for Subway Spice, says this is the first time she can recall where cultural or religious wear has been an issue and was surprised once she realized Alnuhanna was turned away for something that did not appear to be a safety issue.
Hoffman adds there is also a girl in the U12 league of the same faith but those are the only two female players she is aware of who are Muslim and wish to be covered while playing.
Religious head gear recently became an international issue as the Quebec Soccer Federation refused to allow players to wear turbans. Mid June the federation reversed the decision to fall in line with FIFA rules. FIFA later clarified that all head coverings, within certain guidelines, are allowed. Head coverings were also an issue at the 2010 Summer Olympics when some teams were not permitted to wear Hijabs (headscarves.)
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