Ottawa (June 21, 2011) -- The World Sikh Organization of Canada (WSO) is asking the Quebec Soccer Federation to review its decision to restrict players in community leagues from wearing the hijab and other religious headgear including turbans.
“Telling young people they cannot play soccer with their peers because they choose to practise their religion creates an atmosphere of intolerance and inequity. Hijabs and turbans are worn and accepted in youth soccer leagues in every Canadian province and it has never been an issue elsewhere,” said Gian Singh Sandhu, the WSO’s policy advisor.
No other Canadian soccer league excludes players who wear articles of faith.
In a letter sent today the human rights groups reminded the Soccer Federation that both provincial and federal human rights laws protect freedom of religion. Embracing diversity is a well-established aspect of Canadian society.
The WSO’s letter was prompted by reports that a Lac St. Louis referee Sarah Benkirane, 15, was told she could no longer referee games because she wears the hijab. The community soccer league has chosen to adopt rules established by the Zurich-based Federation Internationale de Football Association, which produces the $3.2 billion FIFAWorld Cup every four years.
In another case, the Lac St. Louis league also excluded Sagerpreet Singh, 14, from playing because the Sikh boy wears a turban, which they argue gives him an “unfair competitive advantage on headers.” It is unclear what the official means, as turbans do not cover a player’s forehead, which is the part of the head used in “head butts.”
The WSO is concerned about Canadian children being ruled by a body known for bigotry and bribes. On June 21 the New York Times reported that, “Step by step, FIFA is losing all credibility as the governing body of world soccer” due to the many corruption scandals surrounding the soccer organization.
At the elite international level of sport, the Iranian women’s soccer team was disqualified from Olympic competition because the International Olympic Committee opted to harmonize their rules with FIFA, a decision that is still being challenged.
“FIFA is a self-serving body that represents the opposite of what we want our children to learn from sport. We don’t think most Canadians would appreciate an organization like FIFA setting standards for how their children should behave, which is why our laws specifically oppose the sort of rules FIFA embraces,” Sandhu says.
WSO President Prem Singh Vinning echoed Mr. Sandhu’s view of the young players right to practice their faith.
“Accommodation of a religious headgear should be a non-issue in Canada. It doesn’t pose any hardship on the rest of the community. Soccer leagues and other sports are a way to build bridges and community. Forbidding these young people from participating because of their religious headgear goes against the spirit of sportsmanship.”
For more information, please contact:
Gian Singh Sandhu
Senior Policy Advisor