par JAN RAVENSBERGEN - The supreme authority of world soccer will tackle the question of hijabs on the playing field Saturday in Manchester, England.
The group's turf includes Quebec, where the Islamic head scarves are banned.
The discussion will be part of the annual general meeting of the International Football Association Board, Nicolas Maingot, a spokesperson for the Federation Internationale de Football Association, said yesterday in Zurich.
IFAB "is the only body able to modify, amend or change the laws of the game" in force for 250 million players worldwide, 40 million of whom are women, Maingot added.
The football board consists of FIFA and four large British soccer associations.
As far afield as Australia and the Middle East, female soccer players wear hijabs while playing under FIFA rules.
Maingot said he didn't know whether hijabs were added to the meeting agenda after a Quebec ban on them during soccer games ignited a cross-Canada controversy. He said he couldn't provide further detail on the meeting.
On Sunday, 11-year-old Asmahan (Azzy) Mansour of Nepean, Ont., a Muslim, was ordered from the game by a Muslim referee for wearing her hijab during a match at an indoor tournament in Laval that drew 290 teams.
Her team forfeited the game in protest and withdrew from the tournament along with several other Ottawa-area teams.
Maingot refused to comment specifically on the Laval events.
He did say, however, "there is nothing prohibiting hijabs" in international soccer rules: "Headgear is permitted as long as it is not considered dangerous by the referee."
The Quebec Soccer Federation continued yesterday to cite the same international rule book, combined with safety concerns that included possible strangulation, as the basis for its ban across the province.
The federation has about 175,000 players under its jurisdiction, 43 per cent of them female.
It's sticking to its guns, said Michel Dugas, federation communications co-ordinator, and will issue "no further comment."
A policy adopted last spring allows the 440,000 players under the Ontario Soccer Association to wear religious headgear, including a hijab, "as long as it's fully secured and doesn't impose a danger," chief executive officer Guy Bradbury said. The referee has the final say, he added.
Bradbury said he's not aware of any cases where Ontario players have been ordered off the field for wearing hijabs, or of any on-field injuries attributable to them.
"I don't expect any," he added.
Hijabs have not become a factor in the group's insurance coverage, he said.
The Ontario policy states, in full: "Religious headgear is permitted for use."
A similar policy has been in effect since 2005 for the 122,000 soccer players under the British Columbia Soccer Association, said Steven Reed, its president.
It was developed soon after a young Sikh player was expelled from a Vancouver-area game for wearing a patka, a small turban.
The association's insurance carriers have determined hijabs carry "no additional risk factor," Reed said. He isn't aware of any injuries in which hijabs were a factor, he added.
He warmly welcomed word of the Manchester meeting.
"If instances like (those that) occurred in British Columbia and in Quebec lead to change at the highest level, you can take some positive out of it," Reed said. "There's a challenge across the country to try to embrace all the different cultures.
"That's part of our mission statement: to acknowledge the cultural diversity of our province and the country, and to try to get as many of these groups to participate in our sport as we can.
"So these types of things, while they're certainly challenges, I think show that we are a sport of choice - and that we have to adapt and evolve to make sure everyone is able to play it."
Soccer spat goes global: World body to rule on hijab.