The ruling came just before the kickoff of league matches in Syria’s ISIS-ruled area around Deir ez-Zor. Soccer itself, meanwhile, appears to remain lawful to play, just as long as the name FIFA isn’t invoked.
“We’re lucky because the football we play does not run using FIFA’s name,” a player told SOHR, which is known to have an extensive network on the ground.
If it did, the player went on to say, “the organization [ISIS] would have stopped games once and for all and not just refereeing.”
Whether soccer will remain legal permanently in ISIS strongholds is unclear, say some scholars.
“This is a big question, and I don’t think there is a set answer,” Amarnath Amarasingam, a jihadism expert at the University of Waterloo, told Newsweek on Thursday. “Some Salafi scholars see engaging in sport for the purposes of enhancing one’s health as permissible, but if it’s done for other reasons it is haram.”
One example of what could rule the sport “haram,” or forbidden, is if it’s played for a trophy.
“Generally, if you engage in activities that elevate earthly things to a higher status, it is considered haram,” Amarasingam said.
To help replace the role of referees, ISIS courts enacted new rules to allow players who suffer injuries during play to exact revenge on their opponents, SOHR reports. Called “Qisas” under Sharia law, injured players can either demand retribution or inflict some sort of physical damage on their opponents. For example, an accepted Qisas for someone whose family member gets murdered is to allow the victim’s family to kill one of the murderer’s relatives.
Unlike some of its other high-profile bans of commonly accepted norms, including satellite television, ISIS has not publicized its reported ban on soccer referees.
Terrorists acting in the name of ISIS, however, have shown much contempt for soccer in the past year. In April, a teenage suicide bomber claimed by ISIS killed 29 children and 14 others when he blew himself up at a youth soccer game in Asiriya, Iraq.
And one of the group’s highest-profile attacks came last November when a group of suicide bombers terrorized Paris, including setting off bombs at the Stade de France while the French national team played against Germany. The attack continued to worry world soccer organizers this summer as France prepared to host the European Championships.