The scene:  A soccer match in the “senior boys’ league” between a team from private Islamic school (ISNA High) and a team from a public Catholic school (Robert F. Hall Catholic Secondary School). 

Little did the team from the Muslim school know that the team from the public school included…a GIRL! This has become commonplace these days, based on rules set by the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations, which states if a sport is not available to girls at a school, they can join the boys’ team after a successful tryout.

Somehow, though the girl was in the starting lineup, it took the ISNA coach until halfway through the game to notice the young woman, and notify the referee that his team “could not continue playing because there were girls on the field.  The two girls on the team decided to voluntarily sit out the rest of the game.

ISNA Coach, Essa Abdool-Karim, said that the team was “caught off-guard” by the presence of girls on the team.

“We assumed this was a senior boys’ league and we thought it was exclusively for boys,” he said “Understand that free mixing is something that, generally speaking, we do not do, more so out of respect than anything. It’s got nothing to do with discrimination.”

So just what does respect mean?

  • The Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations deserve respect for designing and applying a policy of gender equality that advances our society by mandating that boys and girls should have equal access to competitive sports.
  • The girls on the Robert F Hall soccer team deserve respect, not only for the athletic skill they clearly demonstrated in order to be able to represent their school on this team, but, more importantly for their sporting attitudes and commitment to their team, as evidenced by their decision to sit out the game rather than cause problems for their teammates.
  • The Region of Peel Secondary School Athletic Association (ROPSSAA) deserves respect:  Paul Frier, chair of the association emailed the ISNA coach has clarified that schools must abide by the rules, and that if they don’t like [the rules], they are free to leave the athletic association.

On the other hand, Ihsaan Gardee, executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, has explained: “This restraint is considered by some Canadian Muslims to be an expression of personal modesty and is not meant to be regarded as a personal insult or affront.”  And ISNA High says that they intend to seek some sort of “reasonable accommodation”.  On the contrary:  If they were truly reasonable, they would have to realize that there is no “respect” in a policy of gender discrimination, regardless of how it is tied to their religion.

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