Religious runners praise victory on athletes’ expressions

Columbus, Ohio –

Noor Abukaram’s excitement at completing one of her first cross-country races quickly turned to disappointment when she couldn’t find her name among her high school teammates in the results. .

To Abukaram’s shock, she learned she was disqualified for what she had done throughout the season as a Muslim athlete: wear a headscarf.

“My worst nightmare just came true,” Abukaram said this month as she recalled the October 2019 race in which her team from Sylvania Northview in the suburbs of Toledo qualified for the title. enemy in the Ohio area.

At the time, Ohio High School Athletes Association rules banned most headscarves and caps unless competitors received a pre-existing religious waiver. Abukaram’s coach admits he made a mistake by not applying for an exemption but says he doesn’t think it’s necessary as it hasn’t been an issue in previous races.

Abukaram’s experience, and efforts to prevent similar waves elsewhere, have attracted national attention recently. Last year, the National League of State High School Associations announced that it would no longer require state approval to allow soccer or volleyball players to wear religious hats during games. .

Later in the year, the association passed a similar rule change for basketball, softball, track and field, field hockey and spirit. Previously, state athletic associations had to approve all headscarves.

In Ohio, Abukaram didn’t have to wait long before the world learned of her disqualification through a viral Facebook post by her cousin. And it wasn’t long before her plight caught the attention of State Senator Theresa Gavarone, a Bowling Green Republican who was outraged by the girl’s treatment.

Gavarone, a Roman Catholic, recalls the experience of her hockey and volleyball player son, who was allowed to wear a Christian cross under his pad as long as he stuck it to his chest. The senator said anger at Abukaram’s situation triggered her “inner hockey mom”.

“No student athlete has to choose between exercising their deeply held religious beliefs and participating in a sport they love,” said Gavarone.

Gavarone’s first bill to defend such beliefs was introduced in 2020, but the high school athletics association later changed its rules to allow referees to approve the use of the religious headscarf. if requested by a coach prior to a competition without an official waiver.

Tim Stried, OHSAA’s director of media relations, said: “For decades it was just a normal head covering procedure, for medical, religious, cultural reasons, it just happened. is part of sport”.

Stried said Abukaram’s disqualification led officials at the organization to question the need for an enhanced waiver.

“Why do we have an exemption there if it’s natural to wear that?” he say. “So it led to some pretty rapid changes.”

Gavarone hopes such attention on the issue will solve the problem. Then, in the spring of 2020, Abukaram was incorrectly asked to give up before competing in the 1600 meter relay at a track. She was allowed to compete but, fearing it would happen again, she contacted Gavarone.

“We need to reintroduce this because the rules can obviously change and once discriminatory policies are in place, people will continue to enact them,” says Abukaram.

Gavarone introduced the bill again in May 2021. The House and Senate passed the legislation this year with broad bipartisan support, and Governor Mike DeWine signed it into law in February.

Abukaram, 18, is now a freshman at Ohio State studying fashion and sports design – and is still a runner. She was applauded not only for her bipartisan support of the bill but also support from other religious groups, including Christians and Jews.

“It was like a no-brainer that what happened to me was a form of discrimination and freedom of religion is something everyone can agree on,” Abukaram said.

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