By Ron Csillag
Religion News Service
TORONTO (RNS) Quebec’s much-criticized ban on turbans on soccer fields ended this weekend after the game’s world governing body ruled Sikh headgear permissible.
The Quebec Soccer Federation lifted the ban Saturday (June 15), a day after the Canadian Soccer Association sent out word that FIFA, the international governing body, approved the headgear. But allegations of religious intolerance and racism still linger.
“It’s unfortunate that it took this long and this much effort for the QSF to realize that Sikh children should be allowed to play,” said Prem Singh Vinning, president of the World Sikh Organization of Canada.
In April, the Canadian association urged provincial counterparts to allow turbans, but Quebec refused. Authorities cited safety concerns and pointed to ambiguous rules from FIFA.
As a result of the ban, the association suspended the province on June 10. The move risked turning Quebec into a soccer pariah, preventing its teams from participating in or hosting interprovincial matches and national and international competitions.
Saturday, the Canadian association quickly confirmed the suspension was over, adding it was “pleased that both organizations could come to a timely resolution on this important matter.”
But the lifting of the ban did not come soon enough to prevent 20 teams from Ontario from pulling out of a tournament in Quebec this weekend.
The Quebec federation’s executive director, Brigitte Frot, who had initially said that Sikh children “can play in their backyard,” said on Saturday that it “has been our intention from the onset to get a confirmation that the FIFA allowed wearing of turbans, patkas or keskis.
“We are very happy that the FIFA has responded to our request and by the same token dispelled the ambiguities created by a lack of clarification,” she added.
With accusations of intolerance and pettiness leveled at Quebec, the ban quickly became a political hot potato. The province’s separatist premier scolded the Canadian Soccer Association for interfering in Quebec’s affairs.
“I believe the Quebec federation has the right to make its own rules,” said Premier Pauline Marois. “It’s not bound by the Canadian federation.”
She said media coverage of the issue that painted Quebecers as racist and intolerant was “disgraceful.”
Balpreet Singh of the World Sikh Organization of Canada cited a bright spot in the episode.
“The Sikh community gained a lot of friends,” he said. “A lot of people across Canada -– including Quebec -– sent us a lot of messages of solidarity, and it was an opportunity for the Sikh community to maybe educate people about who we are and on the significance of the turban.”