Could Fear Of Islamophobia Lead Atheists To Overlook Religious Bigotry?

image of Teen girls playing soccer

What started out as story about a soccer team invoking religious privilege, that was posted on an atheist blog, took a left turn as the author and many commenters didn’t seem to be concerned with an Islamic school soccer team forcing two Catholic girls to sit out half a match because the Muslim player’s religion wouldn’t allow them to mix with strange females. Could the fear of Islamophobia lead some atheists to overlook obvious religious bigotry? Looks like it can.

Hemant Mehta, over at Friendly Atheist, posted a story about two girls who played on a boy’s soccer team in Ontario Canada:

It’s not very often we see Catholics in the news for doing the morally correct thing, but they deserve credit this time.

It has to do with this rule for kids playing sports:

Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations, South Western Ontario Secondary Schools Athletic Association and ROPSSAA all have the same gender rule stating:

“If a sport activity is not available for a female on a girls’ team, she is eligible to participate on a boys’ team following a successful tryout.”

That’s how Robert F. Hall Catholic School ended up having two girls on its boys’ soccer team. They were good enough to make it on their own merits. Good for them!

Yes, good for the Catholics following the rules and not trying to invoke religious privilege to keep girls off the boy’s team. (I will say it always seems strange to me to praise a group for following the rules but hey it is 2015…)

So far so good, but then it got worse for the girls. The Islamic team informed the referee, at halftime, that the team would refuse to continue the match because they aren’t allowed to mix with females who are not family. The coach of the team said it was out of respect for the girls but the reality is their religion was to blame. They were invoking religious privilege so as not to play a team with girls on it even though they had played a whole half, one of the girls was a starter, and the Islamic team had been in the league for three years so they should have known the rules.

It sounds just like recent reports of ultra-Orthodox Jewish men refusing to sit next to female strangers on airplanes.

But what happened to the female soccer players was worse:

The correct response here is: “Too bad. I guess you lose the game by forfeit.”

Instead, the girls just sat out the second half. It wasn’t out of deference or anything like that. The way the tournament worked, they needed to win by more than two goals in order to advance in the tournament, so a forfeit by the Muslim team would’ve actually hurt the girls’ team. The strategy — if you can call it that — worked, since their team kicked even more ass in the second half, ultimately winning 6-1.

Two Girls Sat Out Part of a Soccer Tournament Because Muslim Players Refused to Compete Against Them

Hemant’s post concluded that the rules should be more clear(???). The team with the girls shouldn’t be punished and if the Islamic team can’t play by the established rules then they shouldn’t be in the league.

It looked like the Islamic team attempted to change the outcome of the game, to gain an advantage to move on in the tournament. It was not only unsportsmanlike but was a clear case of religious bigotry.

The problem is the post didn’t make that clear. It came off as “both sides made mistakes…” – the kind of sweeping under the rug we see from Christian fundamentalists to explain away their exposed bigotry.

When I made the comment, on the post, that caving to ridiculous religious beliefs isn’t the “right” thing to do others said the girls had to take one for the team. Winning was more important than basic human dignity and equality.

Many of the comments to the post also took various positions like “oh well hopefully it won’t happen again…” or “that sucks what are you going to do…” and “well it was religious schools playing each other so….”

Atheists were trying to spin the bad actions of an Islamic school soccer team with little support or understanding for the girls.

Then someone accused complainers of whining and screaming about something that happened and couldn’t be changed. We should just suck it up and move on.

I was “whining” and “screaming” because many people on the comment thread seem to be okay with accommodating bigotry. That actually bothers me more and is why I commented. Yes, it is a good thing that a Catholic school let the girls play for the Boy’s team since there was not a girl’s team (although it is required by the league they play in) but then they undercut that good thing by allowing bigotry imposed by another religion – which would never happen in real life – do a Google search about Sharia law in the US.

The official FIFA soccer rules (and most soccer leagues adopt FIFA rules for the game) score forfeits as 3-0 against the team that forfeits so the Catholic team would have had a 3 goal lead which would help them advance. Also the league the game was played in has a protest mechanism so even if the team might have been excluded because the other team forfeit, the Catholic team could file a protest. It would be the same as if the other team had less than seven players (due to injury and/or red cards) which would make it an automatic forfeit. There is no rational way the girl’s team wouldn’t be allowed to advance in the tournament.

Any other outcome is unsportsmanlike and goes against the spirit of the game.

To be sure, there are reasonable accommodations for religion in sports.

Starting a game after prayers, not playing on the Sabbath or other Holy day, or allowing players to wear clothing appropriate to their religion. The key is the accommodations shouldn’t be forced on non-believers, they shouldn’t give the religious team an unfair advantage, they don’t punish non-believers, and they should apply to all teams. 

Why didn’t the Islamic team complain before the game when they saw who was on the team and why is that so easily explained away?

Just because the Islamic team didn’t win doesn’t absolve them of their bigotry.

The Friendly Atheist and many of his blog commenters had a different view about the ultra-Orthodox Jewish men refusing to sit next to female strangers on airplanes issue back in April.

Hemant wrote at that time:

It’s all a big mess, all because of a religious belief that incidental contact with the opposite sex is roughly equivalent to adultery. It’s just another example of faith trumping common sense when the two are in conflict.

He was very clear the Jewish men were wrong and his commenters seemed to express the same conclusion.

Why, then, would so many atheists try to spin the obvious case of religious bigotry in the soccer game or try to minimize it?

I think that some atheists are so scared of being labeled Islamophobic that some try to explain away or rationalize real cases of religious bigotry if the instigators are Muslim.

Faith trumping common sense is still a problem even if the people trying to do it are Muslim.

The response to the soccer match story was extremely disappointing.