TORONTO - A Muslim high school in Ontario that complained about its boys' soccer team having to play against a team that included girls has been told it must abide by gender equity rules.
The ISNA High School, located on the outskirts of Toronto, had complained earlier this week about a soccer game in which its all-male team played against a Catholic high school whose team included two girls.
ISNA, which describes itself as a progressive co-ed independent school that strives to abide by Qur'anic injunctions, raised an objection at the game about the girls' presence on the field, and the girls sat out the second half.
The Region of Peel Secondary School Athletic Association — which ISNA is a member of — said the Muslim school complained about the situation for "religious reasons."
After examining the matter, ROPSSAA ruled that all its member schools are expected to abide by regulations that say if a sport isn't available for a girl on a female team, she is eligible to participate on a boys' team after a successful tryout.
ROPSSAA chair Paul Freier says the association's gender equity policy comes from the rules used by the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations.
"If a girl is good enough to play on the boys' team she can play," he said, adding that if a similar objection arose in the future, the school teams would have to decide to either play the game anyway, or default the match.
Freier noted that ISNA had been a member of the association for a number of years and hadn't had any problems in the past.
"I think probably they were just caught off guard," he said. "We assume every school that joins is expected to adhere to the constitution and bylaws of ROPSSAA."
In a statement issued Friday night, ISNA said its soccer team "regrets the confusion and misunderstandings that have arisen" from the incident.
The school explained that the team's coach offered to forfeit the game "due to the religious commitment of non-contact with members of the opposite gender who are not family members."
"The opposing team chose to substitute the female players as opposed to accepting the forfeit. In hindsight, ISNA high school regrets that the female players felt they could not participate," the school said.
"It was never the team’s intention to exclude female participation, which was reflected in the offer to forfeit. The team sincerely regrets if any team members or participants were hurt or felt discriminated based on their gender due to the accommodation made by the opposing team."
The school said it "fully respects" ROPSSAA's rules and plans to consult the organization on whether any accommodations can be sought on the issue.