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Shehnajdeep Brar, 15, wears a turban as he performs drills during a soccer practice with the Sikh Sports Club house league at Cherrytree public School in Brampton. (Philip Cheung/Philip Cheung)
Shehnajdeep Brar, 15, wears a turban as he performs drills during a soccer practice with the Sikh Sports Club house league at Cherrytree public School in Brampton. (Philip Cheung/Philip Cheung)

JAPREET LAHAL

I was a Sikh kid and I loved the game. Rescind the ban Add to ...

The decision by the Quebec Soccer Federation (QSF) to ban players from playing the game of soccer is not only discriminatory, but an affront to all Canadians across this country who believe in the beauty of Canada’s multicultural spirit and its Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Canadian Soccer Association’s recent suspension of the QSF may certainly help in pressuring the provincial soccer federation to remove its turban ban. The form of discriminatory bullying carried out by QSF both segregates and ostracizes turbaned children who simply want to play the game of soccer.

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As a proud Canadian, I enjoyed playing the game of soccer as a child. Being a turbaned Sikh, I never faced any discrimination on the soccer field in B.C. The very nature of the sport promotes diversity and teamwork, with young children of all backgrounds interacting with one another and collectively coming together to achieve a common goal.

All I can remember of those fun days is an enjoyable game of soccer, accompanied by oranges at break time and participating in exciting tournaments. We collected recycled cans and bottles to fundraise for our team. The pizza dinner at the end of the season was also something that all the children looked forward to. Certainly, playing in my “backyard” could not have fostered the sense of teamwork, cooperation and social skills that I developed as a young player. On the field, one could see the microcosm of a diverse Canadian society – the next generation of Canadians who would remember their childhood as one full of diversity and acceptance.

With parents and relatives on the sidelines, it was a common occurrence to hear them yell words of encouragement in different languages, in addition to English. Immigrants, who may have come to Canada just a few months prior to enrolling their children in the soccer program, were already seeing how Canada was truly an accepting country. The soccer pitch also became a community-building experience, where different communities not only interacted with members of their own community, but were also able to connect with parents of others communities as well. This helped them truly integrate into Canadian society.

My father, who is an avid FIFA fan and played soccer for fun as a child in India, encouraged me to play soccer, as it would give me a chance to not only build strong teamwork skills but also experience the thrills of a team sport – something that he experienced as a child. And though I wasn’t the strongest player, the strong sense of teamwork that I developed certainly plays an important role in one’s childhood journey. What will children, who have been banned by the QSF, remember of their childhood soccer experience?

The Quebec Soccer Federation has supported its actions under false justifications of player safety. However, even from a purely objective standpoint, how many cases of injury can QSF attribute to the turban? Where is the empirical evidence which states that X number of turbaned soccer players have caused injuries on the field? Nowhere else in Canada does such a ban exist. Furthermore, QSF says that it is simply following FIFA guidelines. However, nowhere does FIFA explicitly state any sort of ban on turbans. No organization has the right to set up its own discriminatory barriers. The very origins of soccer, dating back thousands of years, have roots in almost all parts of the world, including Europe, Asia and South America.

In the wake of this unfortunate decision by the QSF, one thing is certain – the multicultural spirit is well and alive, and has been stirred to action by QSF’s ignorant decision. There has been great protest from Canadians of all colours, races and religions from across this country.

QSF’s actions are not representative of Canadian principles. It is time for the organization to remove this ban and apologize.

Japreet Lehal is an award-winning undergraduate student at Simon Fraser University, where he is a Senator and also serves on the Board of Directors (SFU Community Trust). He is also one of the Top 25 under 25.

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