Updated Sun. Apr. 15 2007 8:01 PM ET
CTV.ca News Staff
A Quebec taekwondo team consisting mainly of Muslim girls withdrew from a tournament after they were barred from taking part while wearing their hijabs.
"I feel very sad because we practised so hard," 11-year-old Bissan Mansour, who wears a hijab, told The Canadian Press on Sunday. "We pulled out for a useless reason."
A Quebec taekwondo team were forced to withdraw from a tournament for wearing their hijabs.
The team has been practicing the Korean martial art for three years, and some members have won medals in competition. The team said on Sunday the hijabs -- which five of its six team members wear underneath their helmets -- have never been a problem until now.
Right before the competition in Longueuil, the team said a referee told them to either remove their hijabs or leave the tournament.
"In the past few years we used to compete, and there was no problem," team coach Medhi Sbeiti told CTV Montreal. "What's the problem this year?"
A taekwondo team says it was kicked out of a tournament today because some of its members refused to remove their hijabs.
International referee Stephane Menard said on Sunday that the decision was made for safety reasons, and that it came out of a referees' meeting in Longueuil earlier in the day.
Menard told CP that the hijab isn't included under the equipment allowed under World Tae Kwon Do Federation rules.
"We applied the rules to the letter," he said.
The fear is that part of the hijab could come loose during a bout. Taekwondo involves kicks and throws.
The team is made up of six girls between eight and 12 years old, and is affiliated with a Muslim community centre in Montreal.
Team member Batoul Atwi told CTV Montreal that she was angry and disappointed after she and her teammates were sidelined at the Raymond Mourad tournament.
Tournament founder Raymond Mourad said he wanted officials to let the Muslim girls compete this time, but his pleas were ignored.
"They should have let them fight," Mourad told CTV Montreal. The girls withdrew following the decision. A boys team from the same centre also withdrew. The $35 tournament fee each member paid was reimbursed.
Mourad wanted the officials to let them compete, but he couldn't sway them.
"The kids who came today, we could have let them compete and warned them for next time," Mourad said.
Sunday's incident marks the second time in recent months the hijab has been the centre of controversy at an amateur sporting event in Quebec involving pre-teens.
In February, an 11-year-old Muslim girl from Ottawa was asked to remove her hijab at a soccer tournament in Laval, north of Montreal, due to safety concerns. She refused and her team pulled out of the tournament.
And a Montreal Muslim woman recently complained that she was forced to choose between her hijab and a job as a prison guard. Authorities also cited safety concerns in that case.
Debate over "reasonable accommodation" of racial, cultural and religious minorities surfaced several times during the Quebec election campaign.
It has become such a hot-button issue that Premier Jean Charest has formed a committee to study it.
With a report from CTV Montreal's Annie DeMelt and files from The Canadian Press