Hijab ban red-cards Muslim team

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SCOTLAND'S first female Muslim football team has been prevented from playing competitive matches after soccer chiefs imposed a worldwide ban on wearing religious headdress during games.

Ansar Women's FC, from the east end of Glasgow, were looking forward to their first league games this summer, until it became clear they could not play while wearing their hijab headscarves.

The garments are among those recently banned on safety grounds by international football authorities after a referee in Canada sent off an 11-year-old girl earlier this year after she refused to remove her hijab.

The impact of the ruling on Ansar FC has sparked a backlash from the Asian community in Scotland, with actor and TV presenter Atta Yaqub leading calls for the ban to be overturned.

The decision was taken by the International Football Association Board (IFAB), the game's ultimate decision-making body, and part of FIFA. Law 4 of the sport's regulations restricts a player's kit to a shirt or jersey, shorts, socks and footwear.

Zuby Malik, a Glasgow-based sports worker and coach of the team, said it appeared to end hopes of Ansar Women's FC being admitted to the Scottish Women's Football Association league.

Malik said: "It is ridiculous that I will have to tell the girls that they won't be able to join the league because of this nonsensical ruling. The majority of the girls in our team wear the hijab and it is completely unfair to ask people to choose between their faith and sport. Quite rightly their religion will always come first."

Malik said London giants Arsenal had already expressed an interest in one of their players. "There is so much talent in the Asian community in Scotland, but this sends out the signal that football is not for them. Asians are already woefully under-represented in Scottish sport and this is another huge blow."

The 27-year-old coach said there was no justification for banning headscarves and turbans. "There appears to be no logic at all behind this ruling. I don't see how anyone could be injured through wearing a hijab or a turban or how it affects their game in any way."

Malik added: "This is going to throw up all sorts of difficulties for Asian players throughout Scotland and across the world. It will have massive consequences."

Atta Yaqub, who starred in the acclaimed Ken Loach film Ae Fond Kiss, was outraged by the ruling.

The actor was a founder member of Glasgow Asian soccer team Ansar FC and is an active supporter of Muslim women's football.

"It is appalling that people can be effectively banned from playing competitive football for observing their religion. Sport should be about promoting tolerance and understanding and this seems to fly in the face of this. Myself and many others have been trying to build bridges and get youngsters from ethnic minority backgrounds involved in sport."

He added: "There was a feeling that football wasn't for them, and we have worked hard to change this, but this rule looks like undermining the progress we have been making."

Rimla Akhtar, of the Muslim Women's Sports Federation, added: "This seems to be a bizarre and rushed ruling. It will discourage people from getting involved with football and undermines all the good work that FIFA has been doing."

The Scottish Women's Football Association sympathised with Muslim youngsters but said its hands were tied. "If we were given flexibility on this issue we would be delighted to use it, but we are bound by FIFA's rules and regulations and must adhere to them."

An SFA spokeswoman said that they complied with FIFA rules and declined to comment further.

Brian Barwick, chief executive of the English FA and a board member of IFAB, insisted the decision was the right one. "It's absolutely right to be sensitive to people's thoughts and philosophies, but equally there has to be a set of laws that are adhered to, and we favour Law 4 being adhered to."

FIFA general secretary Urs Linsi issued a statement saying: "The laws of the game must be applied when you play organised association football. The wearing of a hijab is covered by Law 4 on players' equipment."

Although there are numerous black players in Scottish football, no Asian player - aside from imported players from China and Japan - has ever played at the top level in this country. Jaz Juttla, born in Glasgow of Indian descent, was on Rangers' books a few years ago but failed to make it to the first team.

Hijab is the Arabic term for "cover". It refers to a head covering worn by Muslim women as a symbol of their faith. The turban is closely associated with the Sikh faith.