Montreal Gazette: Sikhs join fight to allow turbans in soccer

The World Sikh Organization of Canada has taken up the cause of LaSalle youths told in May they can't play soccer if they wear turbans.

http://www2.canada.com/story.html?id=6710416

Jason Magder, The Gazette

MONTREAL- The World Sikh Organization of Canada has taken up the cause of LaSalle youths told in May they can't play soccer if they wear turbans.


LaSalle's Aneel Samra, 17, was told he would not be allowed to play house league soccer if he insisted on wearing a turban. Samra had been playing for about 10 years while wearing a turban, and this was the first time he had been told the headdress was unacceptable. Several dozen other Sikh youth in the borough also were told the same thing. The president of LaSalle soccer blamed the ban on a directive he had received from the Lac St. Louis Regional Soccer Association, which reminded his association it must reinforce this rule.


"These people want to play soccer for God's sake. Let them play soccer," said WSO Canada legal counsel Balpreet Singh.
Aneel Samra has been told he can no longer play on his Lasalle Soccer Association U-18 team without complying with the league's rules regarding headwear. He is Sikh and wears a turban as part of his faith.


Aneel Samra has been told he can no longer play on his Lasalle Soccer Association U-18 team without complying with the league's rules regarding headwear. He is Sikh and wears a turban as part of his faith.

Singh sent a letter to Lac St. Louis soccer last week, saying his organization received a ruling from a Fédération International de Football referee in England that said the headdress worn by Samra conformed to FIFA rules, and has been worn at high levels in England.


"Sikh people play with turbans in every single province," Singh told The Gazette. "There are even Sikh soccer clubs. I understand FIFA has a policy against religious statements, but I don't see the turban as making a statement."


Maya Spano, the director of competition for Lac St. Louis Soccer, said the association must follow the FIFA rules as interpreted by The Quebec Soccer Federation. She said the association sends out regular reminders to minor soccer leagues that they must apply certain rules. The turban rule wasn't the only one sent out, another reminder that recently went out to member associations was to ensure that proper eyewear was being worn.


She said while some soccer organizations may have ignored the rule, they don't have the right to do so. If they do, it creates problems when teams with turban-wearing players play in a region where the rule is applied.


Quebec Soccer Federation's interim general manager Luis Galvez said FIFA rules are clear: soccer players can wear shorts, jerseys, socks and shin pads. It doesn't mention anything about turbans. He said if players insisted on jeans, they also would be told to remove them.


He said he doesn't know why other provinces allow turbans to be worn.


"If they don't apply the rule, that's their decision," he said. "Until the rule says that a turban or a hijab is allowed, I don't have the option to disobey the rule."


He said FIFA has a meeting planned this summer, and will likely address the headdress issue.
Singh said that's not good enough for WSO Canada.
"The fact that FIFA has its rules is fine and good, but in Canada we have the Charter of Rights, and in Quebec we have human rights legislation as well. I'm certain this regulation is in violation of both Quebec law and Canadian Charter rights," Singh said.
He said if he doesn't receive a response from soccer authorities, he'll challenge the ruling, and didn't rule out filing a complaint with the human rights tribunal or mounting a legal challenge.


"I'm hoping they'll come to their senses and realize this is a non-issue," Singh said.
jmagder@montrealgazette.com
Twitter: @JasonMagder