The Quebec Soccer Federation’s decision on Sunday to maintain its ban on turbans and other Sikh headgear is, no pun intended, wrongheaded. Worse, its arguments in defence of the decision are specious. Quebec should join the rest of the country and lift a ban that has barred a specific group of children and adults from playing a game they love.
The Quebec Soccer Federation (QSF) didn’t even ban turbans until last year, when it suddenly became an issue, possibly as the result of a complaint from a player who was offended by the sight of them on his opponents’ heads. Whatever the impetus, Sikhs were suddenly told last June they could not play soccer while wearing their turbans, or even smaller versions of the turban called keskis and patkas. For observant Sikhs, this has effectively amounted to banning them from the pitch during games.
The QSF has never adequately explained its reversal. Its current stand is that turbans are banned for safety reasons, and also because FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, doesn’t allow them. It would be hard to think of two less convincing arguments. There is no evidence whatsoever from any quarter that turbans pose a threat to player safety. Turbaned players were happily and safely playing soccer in Quebec for a decade before the ban mysteriously arose last summer. In April of this year, the Canadian Soccer Association urged its provincial counterparts to allow turbans. If there is a safety threat, only the QSF knows what it is, and it has yet to share this information.
As for the FIFA justification, it’s true that turbans are not included along with cleats, socks, shorts and a shirt on the list of equipment players are allowed to wear during a FIFA-regulated match. That amounts to a ban on turbans, but FIFA recently began letting female Muslim players wear headscarves without explicitly adding them to the list of permitted gear. FIFA’s message has lately been one of open-mindedness, not one of strict adherence to rules at the expense of players’ religious obligations.
And anyway, why is a provincial soccer federation that governs children’s and recreational leagues obsessing over FIFA rules? FIFA requires regular blood-doping tests: Will the QSF implement those this summer when 10-year-olds get together to play soccer?
The Quebec Soccer Federation’s decision is arbitrary, indefensible and unfair. Once all the rational reasons for the turban ban are eliminated, that leaves only the irrational ones: fear and intolerance. Let the kids play soccer.