Montreal Gazette: Sikh community cautiously optimistic following FIFA’s statement on turbans in soccer

“I think it goes a long way in clarifying the situation,” World Sikh Organization of Canada legal counsel Balpreet Singh said of the ruling. “Even though it has been our position that it really doesn’t matter what FIFA says because Canadian rules and Canadian law certainly allows the wearing of the turban, it makes it clear that FIFA also doesn’t have a problem with the wearing of the turban.”

http://www.montrealgazette.com/life/Sikh+community+cautiously+optimistic+following+FIFA+statement+turbans+soccer/8528360/story.html

BY ADAM KOVAC, THE GAZETTE JUNE 15, 2013

MONTREAL — Cautious optimism, relief and a desire to see kids back on the soccer pitch dominated reactions from members of the Sikh community following FIFA’s statement giving the OK to wearing turbans on the field.

“I think it goes a long way in clarifying the situation,” World Sikh Organization of Canada legal counsel Balpreet Singh said of the ruling. “Even though it has been our position that it really doesn’t matter what FIFA says because Canadian rules and Canadian law certainly allows the wearing of the turban, it makes it clear that FIFA also doesn’t have a problem with the wearing of the turban.”

Singh noted that while the ruling is encouraging, the Quebec Soccer Federation’s ban on the turban is still in place, pending an official reaction from the QSF to FIFA’s release.

For Gagandeep Walia, mother to a 6-year-old boy who was forced to leave his team because of the ban on headgear, the public FIFA directive came as a relief.

“It’s very nice to see that FIFA has come out with a more clear and specific ruling in regards to the issue. We’re very exciting and we’re just counting down minutes and days and hoping the ban will be over soon. We’re hoping this will help,” said Walia, one of the organizers of a pickup soccer game to be held in Lachine on Saturday.

The game is part of an effort to raise awareness and also improve their kids’ morale. Dubbed “Let the Kids Play,” the event is aimed at young athletes who have been affected by the ban including Walia’s son, for whom “being with his buddies on the soccer field as a team just means the whole world to him right now,” she said.

“It’s not a protest or anything,” Walia said of the event, which has garnered wide support from such organizations as the Canadian Liver Association, the Quebec Arthritis Association, among others.

“We’re optimistic that the ban will be lifted shortly and we’re just inviting all players of all ages and all skill levels from all communities to come join us,” she said. “Tons and tons of communities have come out with support. There’s a few MPs flying in from across Canada as well to join us.”

Hardeep Singh, a Sikh Vancouver resident who co-started a Facebook page dedicated to organizing a boycott of the QSF, said he saw a silver lining to the whole affair, as it put Sikh issues in the national spotlight, showing Canadians who might not normally be exposed to the religion that “the turban isn’t a horrible thing.”

The controversy, however, has left some negative feelings, he said, and not just towards the QSF, but also toward some of its corporate sponsors, Saputo and Couche-Tard, which the Facebook group had also targeted for boycott.

“We feel that even if the QSF is pressured to reverse the ban, Saputo and Couche-Tard should put out a statement saying they’re against discrimination in sports,” Singh said.

akovac@montrealgazette.comTwitter: adamjkovac