By Mukhbir Singh (WSO Vice President- Quebec/Atlantic)
My name is Mukhbir Singh. and I was born and raised in Montreal. I am currently the Vice-President (Quebec & Atlantic Canada) of the World Sikh Organization of Canada (WSO) and a director of the Sikh Community Centre of Montreal.
I am someone who has played soccer his whole life and passionately cares for the children of his local community. The WSO has worked tirelessly to address the concerns over the refusal of the Fédération de Soccer du Québec and Association Régionale de Soccer du Lac St-Louis to allow Quebec’s children of Sikh faith to play soccer while wearing their turban.
Last summer Sikhs across Montreal were told that they would not be permitted to play with their turbans. It was stated that the wearing of the turban would violate FIFA rules which will be enforced by the Fédération de Soccer du Québec. Earlier last year it was reported that Sarah Benkirane, a referee in the Association Régionale de Soccer du Lac St-Louis, was told that she could not wear her hijab on the soccer field.
In response, on 25 October 2012 FIFA made a rule change allowing girls to play with headscarves as long as they were safe and legal. Florin Buturca, of the Association Régionale de Soccer du Lac St-Louis, however confirmed that they would still enforce the ban on Sikh boys who wear the small turban since the FIFA rules only apply to girls. We found this to be unacceptable and worked diligently with local representatives to look over this issue and making the appropriate changes to make sure these children can play with their teammates.
After missing an entire season of soccer, I am worried about the large scale effect this could have on a whole generation of Sikhs living in Quebec if they are not allowed to play a sport due to their religious beliefs – as you well know, sports is a great way for children to socialize, make new friends and it has been a great tool for integration. I myself, as a Sikh, have played soccer my whole life and can truly attest to what a positive influence it has had in my life. Many of my best friends now were once teammates where we learned to play together. Once you wear that jersey and see someone else wearing the same jersey, you are automatically linked with friendship – these abstract issues we have created don’t matter to the children playing this game. I think it’s something we can all learn from.
I have been playing soccer my whole life without issue, however I too was told that I would not be allowed to play in the Association Régionale de Soccer du Lac St-Louis Winter soccer season (2012-2013). I was extremely disappointed to be taken away from the game I loved and was surprised that the ruling was applied in indoor soccer as well. Our coach, Pat Santella, and the rest of the team kept me involved and I attended all of the games as a coach and remained a part of the team regardless of the ruling. We even ended up winning the championship.
Young Sikhs in soccer leagues across the rest of Canada are allowed to play while wearing turbans.
It should also be noted that the turban used while playing soccer is usually smaller than a traditional turban worn otherwise. It only covers the hair and does NOT touch the neck area. There is absolutely no safety issue involved with it and the recent FIFA proposals, alternatives to the hijab, also look very much like the small turbans.
I am unsure as to why FIFA would apply their rule changes only for girls; however, I think we have a responsibility to allow our children to be able to play soccer with their peers and not get entangled in administrative issues. We should have a way to differentiate our rules for recreational and competitive/professional soccer so as to ensure accessibility for our children. We already have made exceptions to official FIFA rules in the past. An example of such an exception, which we would presume was mandated to facilitate inclusion and fairness for all children, is the requirement that all players receive equal playing time. Sports, especially an international one such as soccer, are a great way for children to interact with others and are a great tool for integration into our community.
The FSQ should therefore follow this new directive from the CSA. I am uncertain why the organization would put so much resistance to this idea and will be extremely disappointed if this cannot be clarified before the beginning of the summer season. The large scale effect this could have on a whole generation of Sikhs living in Quebec if they are not allowed to play a sport due to their religious beliefs is what worries the most. Unnecessarily stopping children from playing does not benefit anyone.