Earlier this week, the Canadian Soccer Association suspended the Quebec Soccer Federation for instituting the ban on religious head coverings, such as turbans, keskis and patkas. Then the Ontario Soccer Association withheld travel permits for 20 Ontario teams scheduled to play in a tournament near Montreal.
The move by the national body prohibits Quebec teams from participating in or hosting interprovincial matches and national and international competitions.
In April, the national soccer association urged provincial counterparts to allow turbans. Quebec is the only province whose soccer body refused. It cited safety concerns and pointed to rules from FIFA, the international soccer governing body, though those regulations are ambiguous.
The contentious debate spilled over into the political arena earlier this week, when Quebec’s premier sided with her province’s soccer agency.
“I believe the Quebec federation has the right to make its own rules,” said Pauline Marois, the Quebec premier and leader of the Parti Quebecois. “It’s autonomous. It’s not bound by the Canadian federation.”
The Quebec soccer body has pointed out that it reports directly to FIFA, and is responsible for granting or revoking the membership of provincial federations.
Sikh officials in the province say the ban could affect between 100 and 200 players, and more from visiting jurisdictions.
The president of Canada’s World Sikh Organization, Prem Singh Vinning, said there have been no incidents of turbans ever posing a safety risk in soccer games.
“Nowhere has this become an issue,” Vinning told CTV News. “Sikh children across the world play soccer. This was never a concern.”
In announcing the headgear ban, Quebec Soccer Federation Director-general Brigitte Frot said Sikh children “can play in their backyard. But not with official referees, not in the official rules of soccer.”
Last year, the Quebec soccer body lifted a ban on hijabs it had imposed in 2007.
Observers have pointed out that the soccer flap is the latest chapter in Quebec’s march toward secularism. The province is currently debating a hot-button “secularism charter,” renamed the “Charter of Quebec Values.” It is expected to be unveiled in the autumn.
The Parti Quebecois program calls for a ban on non-Christian religious symbols in the public sector and would set limits on religious accommodation.
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