Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Turban ban in Quebec kids league smacks of racism

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Aneel Samra, 18, plays with a soccer ball in his backyard, Wednesday, June 5, 2013 in Montreal.Samra has not been able to play organized soccer since last year due to his religious headgear.

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Aneel Samra, 18, plays with a soccer ball in his backyard, Wednesday, June 5, 2013 in Montreal.Samra has not been able to play organized soccer since last year due to his religious headgear.

The move by the Quebec Soccer Federation to ban Sikh boys from wearing turbans isn't surprising -- it's shocking.

Like most acts of discrimination seen today, the level of tolerance for anything that remotely infringes on the rights of others is getting lower every year. Yet, in Quebec, where the province is driving down a narrow road to extreme secularism, the attitude toward religious minorities is increasingly intolerant, and in some cases, blatantly racist.

Sadly, the soccer group's implementation of a ban smacks of the latter.

The director-general of the federation said Monday that if Sikh kids want to play soccer while wearing a turban, "they can play in their backyard."

Such a flippant response to a serious issue is certain to raise accusations of racism at a time when Sikhs wearing turbans can be seen playing almost any sport in Canada, especially soccer.

So, what's the problem?

According to Quebec's ruling body on soccer, the issue is all about safety, nothing more. We may be able to accept such reasoning if Sikh boys were running, sliding and jostling with others with their kirpan, a ceremonial dagger carried by adherents to the Sikh faith. The fact is, there is nothing dangerous about playing soccer with a turban. It has been done for decades.

Showing a lack of courage on the issue, the federation said it is only following the rules of FIFA -- soccer's international governing body -- and when it changes its stance on headgear, Quebec's rules will change, too.

The problem with that stance is that FIFA doesn't have any rules explicitly stating a position on such turbans, which is neither banned, nor allowed.

The move is a blatant cop-out that will affect scores of children who want to play the beautiful game in an organized fashion, but don't want to compromise their faith, whose identity is most associated with the turban.

This shouldn't be an either-or issue. Let the kids play.

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 8, 2013 A17

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