While the Canadian Soccer Association was dealing with complaints of fans racially taunting American striker Sydney Leroux Monday, the Quebec Soccer Federation decided to defy the national body by imposing a ban on turbans that many see as racist and intolerant. Turbans have been specifically allowed by the CSA, but the QSF (one of the provincial associations that makes up the CSA) has decided to rebel against that ruling, and they've decided to do so in an unmoving and rigid way. In a Monday afternoon press teleconference, QSF executive director Brigitte Frot said five-year-old Sikh boys who wear turbans thanks to their religion would not be allowed to participate in organized soccer in the province:
“They can play in their backyard. But not with official referees, not in the official rules of soccer. They have no choice.”
What's motivated this? Well, the QSF says it's a safety concern. However, they were unable to cite any injuries from turbans, and turbans have long been worn in organized soccer in other provinces without any issues. (It's also interesting that Sikhs in Canada and the U.S. have legally won the right to wear turbans instead of other headgear in professions such as police work, and British Columbia and Manitoba specifically allow turbans as an exemption to motorcycle helmet laws.) The QSF also says they're just following FIFA rules, but FIFA doesn't specifically prohibit turbans, and generally doesn't interfere in low-level recreational soccer for any reason. The CSA has also specifically said that turbans are fine in soccer across Canada. Thus, many prominent Canadian political and sports commentators are saying Quebec's doing this just to single out a particular group:
Can't think of anything fresh to say about this Quebec kids' soccer turban ban, because it's just so self-evidently repulsive.
— Adam Radwanski (@aradwanski) June 4, 2013
Shame on Quebec. RT @ericengels what kind of world are we living in where kids are excluded from minor sports because they wear a turban.
— Dave Kaufman (@TheKaufmanShow) June 3, 2013
As The National Post's Graeme Hamilton writes, this fits in with a long pattern of anti-minority political statements in Quebec, including previous battles over Muslim headscarves (hijabs):
"[W]hat the decision truly reflects is a disturbing disregard for the interests of minorities. The rules are not so iron-clad that they stopped the Canadian Soccer Association from advising provincial associations in April to permit turbans and other Sikh headgear. The goal was to make soccer “accessible to everyone,” the CSA said. Quebec ignored the advice.
This is not the first time the doctrinaire ways of Quebec soccer’s governing body have forced children off the field. In 2007, the federation backed a referee’s decision to prevent an 11-year-old Ottawa girl from playing in a hijab during a tournament in Quebec...
It took five years for the Quebec federation to permit the Muslim headscarf, following a 2012 directive from soccer’s international governing body, FIFA.
Like Hamilton, many see this as the Quebec federation using soccer to make a political anti-immigrant point. That's led to the spread of this story, which has been picked up around the world, from the BBC to The Washington Post. Widespread external backlash may not be enough to get the QSF to change its policy, though, and there isn't a lot the CSA can do. Recent CSA governance reforms mean provincial associations have less power nationally than they once did, but QSF president Martial Prud'homme is one of the provincial presidents who remains on the CSA board, and the CSA still doesn't have a lot of power to interfere in individual provincial organizations' decisions. For this decision to change, it seems likely that either FIFA will have to specifically permit turbans (as they did with hijabs last year) or that the backlash will have to get so large that the QSF recants. Otherwise, there may be a lot of Sikh children in Quebec unable to participate in organized soccer, and that's a shame.