Editorial – The Right Time and Place

The rules, as they say, are made to be broken. But It’s also worth remembering that there’s an intelligent, effective way to do so, and then there’s the way that a girls? judo coach tried to go about it.

Understandably, 11-year-old Hagar Outbih was upset when Judo Manitoba officials prevented her from competing in a judo tournament while wearing her hijab, a traditional Muslim headscarf.

The youngster reportedly burst into tears and vowed to start a petition to change the rules. From a child’s point of view, it just wasn’t fair. She had (one can assume) trained hard and been looking forward to participating alongside her friends. Any kid would have been disappointed.

The problem isn’t with Hagar. She’d been allowed to prepare for and enter the tournament under the misconception that she’d be allowed to wear the head covering.

And the problem isn’t with the rules. There’s a strict (and clearly laid out) uniform for the sport: jacket, pants, belt, and a plain white T-shirt for women. No exceptions.

Why so stringent? Because any deviations are potentially dangerous, and even deadly, for competitors, and I take that from someone who knows: a man with 54 years? experience on the judo mat; seven years spent on the Canadian Judo Team; two Pan-American games; several years training in Japan; and more broken bones and shattered teeth than he’d care to count. In short, someone who knows exactly what can go wrong on the mat.

When I asked his opinion on competitors wearing a hijab, or any other departure from the official judogi, his answer was blunt: ?Brain damage happens fast. And when I’m reaching behind me to throw a competitor, I’m not looking to see what’s wrapped around his neck.?

In our hyper-sanitized world, it often seems that nanny states go overboard in dictating caution, but in this case the rules are there for a good reason: a cloth wrapped around someone’s head in a sport that involves throwing, grappling, and choke holds is a potentially deadly accident waiting to happen.

No, in this case the fault lies squarely with Hagar’s coach, on two counts. First, if She’s responsible for coaching children (or anyone), she ought to know the rules. The International Judo Federation’s website lays the guidelines out plainly, right down to the acceptable measurements for virtually every centimetre of the uniform. The same rules are available on the Judo Manitoba website. Waiting until tournament time to challenge those rules is naturally going to lead to frustration for her team.

Second, supposing that her aim was to change the existing rules, she would have done well to pick a better time and place. According to a CBC article, the female coach has worn a hijab in judo competitions for 10 years without incident. ?I don’t think that accidents happen from wearing hijab,? she says. She suggested that ?maybe they need to try it and put it through an experiment with players and see if it is safe or not safe.?

She may be right. Thorough and careful experiments just might prove that the head covering doesn’t present any extra danger to judo participants.

But using the very public disappointment and tears of an 11-year-old isn’t the right way to do it.

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