Montreal Gazette: Quebec won’t allow turbans in soccer despite ruling from Canadian body

“I am worried that a whole generation of Sikhs living in Quebec will not be allowed to play soccer because of religious beliefs,” said Singh, the Quebec vice-president of the World Sikh Organization of Canada.

MONTREAL — Mukhbir Singh was disappointed last spring when he learned that several young Sikh soccer players in LaSalle had been banned from the game because they refused to remove their turbans.

Singh, 25, who lives in Dollard des Ormeaux and also wears a turban, had played soccer for more than 10 years without incident and was frustrated that some Montreal Sikhs were banished from the pitch because of their religious head coverings.

Several months later, Singh learned that, he too, would become a victim of what he feels is an overzealous interpretation of the rules by the Fédération de Soccer du Québec, the sport’s governing board in the province. He was getting ready to play an indoor game when an official with the Lac St. Louis Soccer Association notified him that he could no longer play with his turban. He refused to play without it and spent the rest of the season helping coach his teammates.

Although international soccer rules do not specifically prohibit the turban, FIFA, the international governing body, says players can only wear a jersey, shorts, shin guards, stockings and cleats while playing.

Minor soccer leagues across Canada allow Sikhs to sport the turban, and Singh said he doesn’t understand why the rules are different in Quebec.

“I am worried that a whole generation of Sikhs living in Quebec will not be allowed to play soccer because of religious beliefs,” said Singh, the Quebec vice-president of the World Sikh Organization of Canada.

“Soccer is a great tool for integration and a great way to interact with other kids in the community. I don’t want them to be marginalized.”

Singh thought he and other Sikhs had caught a break last week when the Canadian Soccer Association sent a memo to the provincial associations asking them to permit turbans on the pitch.

The request, dated April 11, says that FIFA ruled last September that female soccer players could wear head scarves on a trial basis while it studies the issue of headgear.

The CSA asked the provincial associations to “extend this ruling to the wearing of turbans” and thanked the associations for making sure that “soccer be accessible to everyone.”

Members of the World Sikh Organization of Canada told The Gazette on Tuesday morning that they were happy that Sikh children in Quebec would not miss out on a second soccer season.

But when The Gazette contacted the Fédération de Soccer du Québec, its spokesperson, Michel Dugas, said the federation was not ready to agree to the request to permit turbans.

Dugas said the Quebec federation has sent the memo to its provincial referees’ committee, which will make a recommendation to the federation’s executive committee in the coming months.

Dugas could not explain why Quebec is the only province in Canada to ban turbans and why Sikh soccer players had been permitted to play with them for years, until last May.

He suggested that young referees with improper training failed to enforce the rules in the past. The issue of Sikhs wearing turbans was only brought to the federation’s attention after a LaSalle teenager spoke out about it last year, he said.

Dugas implied that the federation might wait until FIFA issues a permanent ruling on head scarves, sometime next year, before changing its position.

“We are in the same position as before; we don’t accept them (turbans),” he said.

If the Quebec federation refuses to act on the memo, the Canadian Soccer Association will be “in touch with them to find out what their concerns are,” a CSA spokesperson said Tuesday.

Balpreet Singh, legal council and spokesperson for the World Sikh Organization of Canada, said he was disappointed to hear the Quebec federation’s position.

“It seems that Sikh children in Quebec will be excluded from soccer in Quebec for another season, which is tragic,” he said.

Quebec’s position means that Muslim girls in the province can play soccer with head scarves being tested by FIFA, but male Sikhs are banned from the game unless they remove their turbans.

“It is completely unfair and it makes no sense,” Balpreet Singh said.

“It does not seem to be an issue anywhere else except Quebec.”

kwilton@montrealgazette.com

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