Sikh leader 'relieved' Quebec Soccer Federation's turban ban lifted
Published Saturday, June 15, 2013 9:41AM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, June 15, 2013 6:29PM EDT
After the Quebec Soccer Federation announced it is rescinding its controversial ban on players wearing turbans, one day after FIFA clarified its rules on headwear in the game.
The leader of a national Sikh advocacy group welcomed the move, even if he says it’s come later than it should.
Prem Vinning of the World Sikh Organization of Canada told CTV News Channel Saturday that the Sikh community in Quebec was “relieved” the ban on players wearing the traditional Sikh turbans, patkas and keskis on the pitch had been dropped.
“I think the community is happy and relieved that Quebec children can go back to playing soccer,” he said in an interview from Laval, Que. He added that the Quebec Soccer Federation had “finally made the right decision” and should have overturned the ban a long time ago.
Vinning’s comments came just hours after QSF director general Brigitte Frot announced the reversal of the organization’s contentious ban during a news conference Saturday morning.
Frot said that the QSF board decided to overturn the ban after the sport’s international governing body, FIFA, made its position clear on Friday.
“Since the beginning we were waiting for official advice that FIFA authorized wearing turbans,” she said, referring to FIFA’s statement Friday that its rules permit players in Canada to wear the Sikh headwear.
“We are very happy that the FIFA responded to our request and by the same token dispelled ambiguities created by a lack of clarification,” Frot said.
In a statement, Frot said that the ban was made strictly from a technical standpoint, and “had absolutely nothing to do with religious matters or political issues.”
She maintained that the QSF was in need of clarification on the regulations, and never meant to offend anyone.
“We sometimes had difficulty communicating our intentions over the last few days. If we have offended or appalled some people, please know that it was not intentional nor voluntary and we are deeply sorry,” she said.
The Quebec federation had previously maintained that the ban was made out of safety concerns, as well as the fact that FIFA had not specifically endorsed the headwear.
But Vinning said the so-called safety concerns were never a legitimate reason to ban the headgear.
“The safety (concerns) had been ruled out many times,” he said, adding that his organization had been unsuccessfully trying to communicate with the QSF for two years about the issue.
He said he hoped Quebec Premier Pauline Marois would change her stance now that the ban has been overturned.
“I’m hoping that the premier is going to do her job and represent all Quebecers,” he said. “The ball is in the premier’s court. The community is going to do their bit as far as being good citizens of Quebec and participate in all facets of society … they’ll go back to playing soccer.”
Earlier in the week, Marois weighed in on the ban and slammed the Canadian Soccer Association for suspending the QSF for its position.
The premier said the national soccer association had no right to intervene in the Quebec federation’s decision.
In a bid to have the suspension lifted, the QSF has sent a letter to the CSA letting them know that the turban ban is no longer in effect.
But for some Sikhs, the decision to lift the ban took too long.
“Soccer belongs to the world and turban or no turban: the kids should be allowed to play all together,” said Amar Magon during a tournament in LaSalle, Que., Saturday.
The lifting of the ban did not come soon enough to undo the damage after 20 teams from Ontario pulled out a tournament in Point-Claire, Que., this weekend.
Even though the CSA suspension has now been lifted, the Lac St-Louis Soccer League says the missed weekend cost them nearly $10,000.
Balpreet Singh, a spokesperson from the World Sikh Organization of Canada, said it was disappointing to see Marois “politicize” the issue.
“It really was a simple thing: let the kids play,” he said in an interview from Vancouver. He added that after FIFA’s ruling the QSF had few options but to lift the ban.
Singh said the reputation of the QSF has suffered because of the ban.
“I think it’s going to take some PR work on their end to fix the mess they’ve created frankly,” he said.
Meanwhile, Frot -- who had initially said that Sikh players banned from the province’s soccer fields should “play in their backyards” instead -- said Saturday that all children were welcome to play on Quebec soccer fields.
“FIFA is like God, they decide the rules,” she said. “I’m happy to say to them that now they can play soccer in Quebec, there’s no problem.”
According to FIFA, wearing turbans is permitted so long as players meet the following conditions:
- Headwear is the same colour as the player’s jersey
- Cannot be attached to the player’s jersey
- Not pose any danger to the player or others players
- Maintain a professional appearance
Ban draws widespread criticism
The contentious ban drew widespread criticism from a number of politicians and sporting associations.
On Wednesday, a soccer team in Montreal donned orange head coverings during a game to show their opposition to the ban. Coach Ihab Leheta told Canada AM that the team -- which has no Sikh players -- felt it was important to show solidarity with the soccer players directly affected by the rule.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau were among the politicians who called on the QSF to drop the ban.
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair had also written to FIFA, seeking clarification on the rules and expressing his hope children would be allowed to play.
With a report from CTV Montreal’s Rob Lurie