Montreal Gazette: Quebec Soccer Federation falls silent as outrage grows

“We have made several phone calls that have never been returned and sent a registered letter that was not responded to,” said Balpreet Singh, president of the World Sikh Organization of Canada

BY KATHERINE WILTON, THE GAZETTE JUNE 4, 2013 6:07 PM

MONTREAL — Canadian Sikh leaders say they’re bewildered by the Quebec Soccer Federation’s decision to ban religious headgear from soccer pitches and say the federation has repeatedly ignored their requests for meetings to try to resolve the issue amicably.

“We have made several phone calls that have never been returned and sent a registered letter that was not responded to,” said Balpreet Singh, president of the World Sikh Organization of Canada

“We have never had any contact from the Quebec Soccer Federation.”

After taking heat for several days since voting on the weekend to maintain a ban on turbans, smaller turbans called keskis and patkas, small pieces of cloth tied on top of the head, the soccer federation was silent on the matter Tuesday.

“We are not making any more comments on the subject,” said Michel Dugas, the federation’s spokesperson.

Singh said his organization was offended by comments made by federation president Brigitte Frot, who said that Sikh children could play soccer in their backyards if they want to wear a turban.

Singh said the comment was insensitive.

“We don’t want to ghettoize ourselves — soccer is about building relationships,” he said.

Singh said he only learned about the results of Saturday’s vote after a reporter sent him the soccer federation’s press release.

“I think it is irresponsible and it looks like bad faith, frankly,” he said of the federation’s decision not to notify the Sikh organization.

Quebec referees began cracking down on players wearing turbans last year. The soccer federation maintains that the ban is an issue of player safety, but said it knows of no injuries that have resulted from boys wearing headgear.

FIFA, the sports governing body, ruled last year that Muslim girls can wear sport hijabs on a trial basis while it studies the question of headgear. A final decision on sport hijabs will be made by FIFA next March.

Singh said he doesn’t expect FIFA to make any rulings on Sikh headgear until then.

Even if the Quebec federation had decided to follow a directive from the Canadian Soccer Association, which said in April that turbans were allowed on the pitch, it would have come too late for many young Sikh soccer players who want to play this summer.

The LaSalle soccer association has a message up on its website saying that registrations “are now closed.”

kwilton@montrealgazette.com