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Youth soccer needs a debate on brain safety, not on turbans

Aneel Samra, 18, holds a soccer ball in his backyard in Montreal. Samra has not been able to play organized soccer since last year because of his religious headgear.

Ryan Remiorz/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Soccer at all levels will someday soon be hit with the same tsunami of public concern about head injuries that has hit hockey and football. It's in this light that the Quebec Soccer Federation's ban on the turbans worn by large numbers of young Sikh players should be seen. At a time of rising public concern about the sport's real dangers, the federation is wasting time and energy battling an invented danger, for which it has presented not a shard of evidence.

If helmets are allowed on players' heads – and they are – why not turbans? FIFA, the governing body for international soccer, allows protective headgear. The Canadian Soccer Association, which justifiably suspended the Quebec federation on Monday, allows it, too. (One brand is described as resembling a lightweight headband covering the forehead, temples and occipital bone in back of the head.) Headgear has been worn by players at the professional, university and youth levels. As in hockey's earlier days, however, it is often seen as wimpy – even in girls' soccer – to wear a helmet.

Scott Delaney, a McGill University researcher, has found that soccer players have rates of head injury similar to football and hockey players. Researchers have also raised concerns about long-term brain damage from repeated subconcussive blows from heading the ball. "Preliminary research has shown [protective headgear] may decrease the number of concussions and soft tissue injuries of the head," a 2010 position paper of the Canadian Academy of Sports Medicine says.

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Soccer needs a debate on brain safety, not a debate on turbans.

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