NEW YORK – A Sikh student from Marple-Newtown High School in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, was banned by a soccer referee to play a game against Conestoga High because of his turban.
Witnesses say the referee would not even allow the unidentified freshman player onto the field citing the National Federation of High School Soccer rules stating that; “Illegal equipment shall not be worn by any player. Types of equipment which are illegal include, but are not limited to helmets, hats, caps or visors.’
After school district officials were notified of the incident, they opened up an investigation to determine if the Sikh soccer player’s religious rights were violated by the referee’s decision and found out that the NFHS had tweeted that “there was no ban on religious headwear in soccer.”
According to the Tredyfrin Patch, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA), districts can apply for exemptions from such rules by requesting certain players be allowed to wear religious items.
School District Attorney Mark Sereni sent ABC Action News a statement reading:
“Our District was surprised to learn yesterday that, according to a PIAA soccer referee’s decision, the PIAA apparently does not have a rule that reasonably accommodates the wearing of religious headwear by our student athletes who play soccer. Our district is investigating this ruling and has advocated and will continue to advocate for the rights of our student athletes to appropriately wear religious headgear.”
“Annually, all schools are informed of this information at the pre-season rules meetings held in their area. The oversight by the school should not cause this overreaction,” Robert A. Lombardi, executive director of PIAA, told NBC News adding that he had wrote an email to the school telling them that they had not properly requested a modification to a National Federation of State High School Associations rule to allow headgear for religious purposes and that it was a miscommunication between the school and PIAA, not a rules issue.
Simran Jeet Singh, an assistant professor at Trinity University, even tweeted his experience with this situation: “I grew up playing soccer in Texas and faced discrimination from referees more than once for my Sikh turban. Some accused me of hiding bombs.”
But sports associations in the United States have gradually been letting go of these regulations that once prohibited religious headgear from being worn during competitions.
The International Basketball Federation, (FIBA), approved this rule in May that was expected to take into affect on Oct. 1.
The International Football Association Board, or FIFA, too approved changes several years back and USA Boxing, the sport’s national governing body, was to lift its ban in June after it granted a waiver to a 16-year-old Muslim-American student who was wearing a hijab during a competition.