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Canada Sikhs celebrate reversal of Quebec’s soccer turban ban

Harshaan Ahluwalis,2, dribbles a soccer ball during a friendly soccer match in solidarity with young players who wear turbans Saturday, June 15, 2013 in Montreal. Quebec's soccer federation announced it is ending its much-criticized turban ban Saturday.

Paul Chiasson/THE CANADIAN PRESS

It's an unfortunate episode that should never have happened, says a Sikh spokesman, but some good resulted from the political and cultural furor over the Quebec soccer federation's now-reversed ban on Sikh head coverings.

"It should never have gotten so complicated to begin with," said Balpreet Singh of the World Sikh Organization of Canada.

"But the bright side is that the Sikh community gained a lot of friends, a lot of people across Canada – including Quebec – sent us a lot of messages of solidarity," said Mr. Singh.

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"There were certainly positive aspects to this. It was an opportunity for the Sikh community to maybe educate people about who we are and on the significance of the turban.

"It was an opportunity to reach across the boundaries of race and culture."

Mr. Singh singled out the Greenfield Park, Que. family that pulled its two boys out of the local soccer league in protest and a team of non-Sikh players on Montreal's south shore who donned turbans during a game in a show of solidarity.

The ban, which effectively excluded about 200 turban-wearing Sikh boys, turned into a political issue after Parti Québécois Premier Pauline Marois said she approved of the decision.

Criticism of Quebec over the ban – the only such edict in Canada – was "sad" and "a shame," she said.

The decision garnered international media attention and sparked much criticism.

The Quebec soccer federation said on Saturday it would lift the prohibition, after soccer's world body – FIFA – formally gave its approval to male head coverings on the pitch, as long as they are the same colour as the jerseys, look professional and pose no danger to other players.

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FIFA issued its decision on Friday after last week's suspension of the Quebec soccer group by the Canadian Soccer Association over the issue.

The Quebec association had based its interdiction on two arguments: that the turbans represented a safety risk and that FIFA had not explicitly endorsed them.

"I'm just glad this whole saga is done. I'm glad the reversal came," said Aneel Samra, an 18-year-old who could no longer play on his LaSalle Soccer Association U-18 team in Montreal.

"It shouldn't even have come to that," he said, adding that there was a big turnout for a celebratory game on Saturday.

Said Mr. Singh: "As long as the kids can play, we're satisfied."

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