Let’s start with a basic fact.
Denying soccer to a single child, whether black, white, brown, rich, poor, able bodied, disabled, English, French or otherwise is wrong.
Dead wrong. It is not debatable and it certainly shouldn’t be a talking point for political debate. Yet that’s what I has become in Quebec, where the QSF refuses to back down from a stance that the vast majority of people in Canada, Quebec and around the world find appalling.
The of the root of the conflict is as old as Canada – the French minority resisting directive from the English majority. And, many people are using the conflict to reopen 50-year-old conversations about sovereignty and federalism.
This is neither the right conflict to frame such debates, nor is a soccer specific website the right venue for such a conversation.
So we aren’t about to have one here. Not in the body if the article, nor, should we, in the comments that follow.
Rather, we’re going to stick to what’s relevant to this space and it’s readers: the football.
Specifically, what the conflict says about CSA reform and the possibility of its success.
In the Fall of 2007 about 500 people wore black t-shirts to a Canadian men’s friendly at Toronto’s BMO Field, emblazoned with the call to “Sack the CSA,” a call for governance reform within the Canadian Soccer Association (as full disclosure I took an active role in organizing the protest and assisting the main organizer, Dino Rossi, with media relations during the event).
It was the first grassroots expression of a long felt frustration with the CSA. It was widely believed that the organization was too regionally focused to the detriment of the nation as a whole.
Simply put, provincial (both meanings of the word) attitudes were holding Canadian soccer back. The provinces had all the power and so long as that was allowed to continue Canada would continue to struggle to compete internationally.
It took five years, but that was the beginning of the end for the old boys network of provincial cronyism ruining (no, not running) the game.
The CSA is now moving to a much more professional and centralized leadership structure. It is attempting to implement national standards such as the Long Term Player Development plan and, as we are seeing now, exerting control to ensure that the same standards are kept from coast to coast to coast in Canada.
They should have expected push back, and this is one instance.
You cannot take power away from groups that have literally never experienced federal control before and not expect resistance.
We are seeing it at the local level with resistance to aspects of the LTPD plan (which is a discussion for another day) and we are seeing it now from Quebec.
The message from Quebec is clear: We do not accept the idea that we should take directives from the federal body. The Quebec Soccer Federation believes that it should be allowed to make its own rules. The province was the only one to vote against governance reform candidates in the last CSA president election and they are using the turban ban as an opportunity to fight for a return to the bad old days of the tails wagging the dog in Canadian soccer.
They are betting that the CSA will back down and the erosion of federal power will begin. You can bet that there are some in other parts of the country that are cheering them on for their own selfish reasons.
The CSA appears to understand the importance of not backing down from the first major challenge to the centralization of power in Canadian soccer. By suspending the QSF they have demonstrated they mean business. In the past they likely would have thrown their hands up and let Quebec do its own thing (like it did when the same battle was fought -and lost- by Quebec over the hijab).
It’s likely that the QSF has underestimated the resolve of the CSA to maintain control. Regardless, the federation could not have chosen a worse hill to die on.
The CSA is on the side of history here. The world doesn’t much care about the petty regional politics if Canada. It does, however, care about religious discrimination.
The QSF will not win this fight. Quebec’s soccer governing body would be best to move on and work with the CSA to ensure that it is allowed to operate independently when it comes to issues that truly are unique to the province.
Fighting to keep Sikh children from playing the game isn’t a unique problem facing Quebec.
It’s just wrong.