Australian education officials are investigating after allegations that female students at an Islamic school were banned from running at sports events because the principal said it could cause them to lose their virginity, the Australian media reported Thursday — claims the principal is denying.
The Age quoted students and a former teacher who said that the principal of Al-Taqwa College outside Melbourne would not allow the girls to run.
"The principal holds beliefs that if females run excessively, they may 'lose their virginity'," a former teacher wrote to the education ministers in Victoria, Australia. "The principal believes that there is scientific evidence to indicate that if girls injure themselves, such as break their leg while playing soccer, it could render them infertile."
But principal Omar Hallak said in a statement that all students are allowed to participate in the range of sports, including running.
"Girls are encouraged to participate in all activities, with participation being subject to parental consent," Hallak said in a statement quoted by 9News.
"We do not believe that running excessively may cause female students to lose their virginity or that sporting injuries could render them infertile," Hallak added.
Female students had complained to Hallak that it was unfair that a cross-country event had been canceled over claims it would negatively impact their health, The Age reported.
"It was really shocking to find out it has been canceled because of the excuse girls can't run," the students wrote. "Just because we are girls doesn't mean we can't participate in running events. It also doesn't say girls can't run in the hadith [the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad]."
A second former teacher told The Age that another reason given for girls not being allowed to run had to do with fertility concerns.
"I was told the girls weren't allowed to participate. The reason was they might over-exert themselves and lose their virginity or be rendered infertile," the teacher who spoke anonymously said.
The secretary of the Islamic Council of Victoria, Ghaith Krayem, told Australia's ABC, "I thought this was a joke when I first read it, and I'm hoping it is a joke."
"I doubt very much that any teacher or principal would say that; I think we all understand biology a little bit better than that,” the Muslim leader said, though added that he had not spoken to school officials.