Football:Over-zealous referee shows red card to turban

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The Independent Online
A 13-year-old Indian boy who was prohibited from playing in a football match in New Jersey, in the United States, because he was wearing a turban will be able to rejoin his team-mates when the game is replayed.

Officials conceded on Tuesday that a referee made a mistake on Sunday when he refused to let Raj Thapar, from West Orange, NJ, play if he wore a turban to cover his hair as prescribed by the Sikh religion.

"I think the referee was a little insensitive to the situation," Bob Katz, the president of the board of trustees for the Mountaintop League of West Orange, said. "I think he needs to be educated a little bit and be more sensitive to religious customs."

Raj had played with the turban throughout the season without any questions from officials before the referee, Al Scarmato, banned him from wearing it at the match in Highland Park, NJ. Raj's team, one of 11 fielded by Katz's organisation, lost 2-0.

"To my knowledge, there is nothing to be worn on the head whatsoever," Scarmato told The Star-Ledger of Newark, NJ. "The only exception that I know of is the goalkeeper."

Vincent Mauro, the director of officials for the US Soccer Federation, said rules allow "those bound by religious law to wear those head coverings, usually a turban or a yarmulke."

Mauro added: "I don't know what happened with this particular referee. He erred on the safety side, but it was a mistake. It should be corrected - and corrected soon."

Mauro also said that leagues and coaches need to make referees aware of players with special needs - but Katz said that had been done at the beginning of the season.

Earl Fielder, the president of the Mid-New Jersey Youth Association, has ordered the game to be replayed. Raj said he was happy with the decision. His mother was attending for the first time last Sunday - Mother's Day in the United States - with family friends, and the referee's decision was especially hurtful, he said.

"I was humiliated, insulted," Raj said. "I couldn't play just because I'm a certain religion, and that's wrong. No other ref had any problems or objections."

Tony Cullin, the state's youth referee administrator, said that some officials get "over-zealous" for legal reasons when it comes to what players can wear.

"These things seem to come out in certain areas around the state," Cullin said. "A referee once said eyeglasses aren't safe, and he was afraid of being sued. My answer was if he's afraid of getting sued, he shouldn't be a referee anyway."