8508669On April 29th, Jason Collins wrote a first-person essay for Sports Illustrated that began simply and succinctly.

I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.

The statement was celebrated, not because the sexual orientation of an athlete is of great importance, but by virtue of Collins promoting a principle that many of us accept: Sports are to be indiscriminate. Skin color, biological makeup, personal preferences and interests don’t matter. All that does is whether or not you can play. And that’s something that absolutely everyone should have the right to find out.

In something so achievement-based as sports, it’s surprising that this ideal isn’t more widespread. As unfortunate as it is, we seldom go a week without learning of a professional athlete who said something hurtful, a spectator who did something ignorant, or a governing body acting in way that excludes rather than includes.

The most recent of these regretful incidents is occurring in Quebec, where the province’s soccer federation has decided to ban turban-wearing Sikh children from participating in sanctioned competitions. Brigitte Frot, the director-general of the Quebec Soccer Federation (QSF), was asked last week what she would tell a five-year-old boy in a turban who shows up to register to play soccer with his friends. She replied:

They can play in their backyard. But not with official referees, not in the official rules of soccer. They have no choice.

The province’s stance contravenes a directive from the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA), which altered an existing rule that permits Islamic females to wear hijabs, to also allow turbans, patkas and keski. The QSF, the only provincial body to not accept the rule change, has dismissed criticism that their stance has anything to do with religious rights, claiming that the policy is based on concern for player safety. The provincial federation’s supporters, including Quebec Premier Pauline Marois, also emphasize that FIFA doesn’t expressly allow turbans.

What’s not mentioned is that the world governing body of soccer doesn’t specifically ban turbans, either.

According to Law 4 of FIFA’s Laws of the Game, “A player must not use equipment or wear anything that is dangerous to himself or another player (including any kind of jewelry).”

On Monday, the CSA suspended the QSF for failing to comply with its rules. The discipline ensures that amateur matches played within Quebec are no longer recognized by the CSA and FIFA. Inviting comparisons to past dealings between other central government bodies and Quebec’s regional authorities, Premier Marios claimed that the QSF is autonomous, and well within its rights to establish separate rules without concern for the policies of the national association.

It would seem that FIFA, who considers the QSF to be under the jurisdiction of the CSA, disagrees.

The dispute might be settled, or at least easier to understand if there was a single study that proved turbans on the soccer pitch to offer any bit of danger. However, there’s no evidence to support such a claim. In place of evidence, we get a lot of posturing over provincial and religious rights that will lead to the exclusion of as many as 200 Sikh soccer players whose religious beliefs require them to wear their traditional headgear.

The discrimination is made all the more frustrating by Quebec’s illogical shifting of the goalposts. The province – whose demographics still feature a strong religious tradition of its own, and an even stronger uncertainty in dealing with minorities – has no evidence to support the initial justification for their policy being based on a need to protect players. With no proof to back their claim, it becomes a matter of aligning their rules with FIFA’s. When FIFA’s laws prove ambiguous (at best), the issue at play becomes autonomy. Of course, the wonderful irony in this case is that FIFA, whose rules were so important in the previous argument, don’t recognize the QSF’s autonomy.

So, now, Sikh soccer players in Quebec have gone from being pawns in a game of bureaucratic oversight at best / religious intolerance at worst, to being held hostage by Canada’s longest running dispute. However, the two solitudes are not on equal footing in this battle. In claiming autonomy in its right to play soccer the way it sees fit, Quebec is acting intolerant to a distinct society within its own borders. It’s a blatantly hypocritical stance.

Worse, though, is its misuse of sports as a means to exclude. As we witnessed less than two months ago, sports possess the wonderful capability to include everyone. Once that’s taken away, it becomes a diminished practice. The QSF’s questionably motivated stubbornness has managed to discriminate against a religious group, sour relations with its country’s governing body and diminish the sport its supposed to oversee in its region.

Add up the virtues of all its constantly shifting arguments as to why turbans must be banned, and compare this minuscule collection of merit to all that the QSF has lost with this ridiculous stance. Now, remember that above all these things – once we see through the preposterous sporting bureaucracy – Quebec is digging its trenches to support its right to stop certain children from playing a sport. It’s at this point we should all wish to have a means to cover our heads in shame for tolerating such a complete and utter lack of common sense.

Comments (30)

  1. All the people praising the CSA’s gutsy move Sunday night need to give their heads a shake. This could have been handles through public pressure (player protests like we see this week, public figures like Saputo and Trudeau speaking against it) but instead they turned it into an all-too-predictable political nightmare.

    Being right doesn’t prevent you from being foolish.

  2. It is not Quebec’s stance. It is the QSF’s stance. The QSF executive committee is EIGHT people. Eight people does not represent an entire province.

    Even if the rule seems discriminatory, I would submit that by banning any and all religious garb from the pitch, they are indeed trying to put everyone on the same level. Nobody is talking about why it is that little kids aren’t permitted to take off their turbans for the duration of a soccer game. Why isn’t their religion to blame if they can’t play?

    • It’s a governing body that represents the province. Further, the premier, herself, supports the stand and referred to their autonomy. I think I’m justified in using “Quebec.”

      • Maybe, but the premier, herself, is a hard separatist. As an english-speaking quebecer, I think we should start calling us non-separatists, or separatists. I’m clearly joking, but the premier’s stance, like many of her policies, does not represent the stance of half the province, so maybe be more specific, and say the QSF, or the Quebec Government, because it’s people definitely do not all support this ban, and that’s what saying “Quebec” makes it sounds like.

        • Seriously? Using Quebec in this case is fine. It’s a representative of the representing parties. Anyone who assumes that Quebec means all the people of Quebec is likely illiterate, so there’s nothing to worry about here.

          • Yeah probably overly sensitive because of the bashing I take from my Ontario friends regularly for being from QC, my bad.

  3. When you boil this down to hundreds of confused children being told “you have to wear this headgear because God” while at the same time being told “you can’t play on your soccer team anymore because this headgear” it’s pretty effing disgusting.

    The QSF and the PQ should be ashamed of themselves. Religious indoctrination is another issue here though obviously it takes the backseat in this exchange. As skeptical as I am, discrimination based on religion is unacceptable.

  4. im all for indiscrimination but in all honesty, when India, which is the worlds largest population of Sikh’s don’t even wear turbans. How to you head the ball or properly play the game…..

  5. I find it incredibly disturbing that every time a story regarding a religion other than Christianity (and maybe Judaism) is reported, there is no shortage of unbelievably ignorant and discriminatory comments posted afterward. Thankfully the comments here are not quite of a Fox News level of stupidity, but it’s quite obvious that even in 2013, we have a awful long way to go in terms of civil rights and equality. So while I wholeheartedly disagree with the QSF’s decision in this case, it’s likely not the last time we’ll see something like this happen again.

    • Just seems to be the nature of the internet. People who would previously have no soap box (or veil of anonymity) to express their crazy opinions now feel emboldened.

  6. It’s the refusal to take it off that prohibits them from playing.

    • It’s both the stance of the QSF and the refusal to take it off that prevents them from playing. However, only one of those two positions is remotely reasonable, and it’s not the QSF’s. And I say that as a born and raised atheist.

      Forcing these kids to take off their turbans if they want to play amounts to forcing them to choose between their religion or playing a game. If they concede, then they’re being bullied into complying.

      It would be different if there was any valid reason why the kids shouldn’t be allowed to wear turbans while playing, but there isn’t.

    • Hey Dave,

      Have u played soccer u idiot come to BC an see how many people play with turbans, u head with ur forehead, this has nothing to do with safety. Ur a Effin idiot

  7. Calling it “Quebec’s stance” is straight up trolling for hits.

  8. This article doesn’t understand Quebec very well. You can take the lazy populist position that the QSF made this ruling because Quebec is filled with a bunch of racist, xenophobic morons, or you can understand the cultural and religion context of Quebec society. Quebec promotes interculturalism while the rest of Canada has more multicultural policies. The cultural differences between Quebec and the rest of Canada are crucial to understanding this issue. With that said, I still heavily disagree with the position of the QSF.

    • “Quebec promotes interculturalism” is by far the most humorous justification for discrimination I’ve yet to read.

      • It’s probably funny to you because you have no idea what you’re talking about.
        Here is a good article to read if you want to have a clue about what you are writing about: http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2013/06/12/andre-pratte-why-quebecers-dont-want-turbans-on-the-pitch/
        “87% of Quebecers think that an athlete should not be allowed to modify his or her equipment for religious reasons. The ban of the turban enforced by the Quebec Soccer Federation is therefore supported by a huge majority of the citizens of this province. Are they all intolerant towards members of religious minorities? Of course not.
        Many Quebecers sincerely believe that the best way to encourage harmonious relationships between different cultural and religious groups is to have identical rules for everyone. If you want to play soccer, you must abide by the rules of soccer, including not wearing things that might be dangerous, such as a necklace (even if it features a cross). So it should be for the turban.”

        Feel free to disagree with that (I do). But at least understand cultural context and secularism of Quebec before you call them intolerant bigots.

        • I actually agree with that. I don’t think religious custom is anymore important that sports custom. I mean that seriously. I have very little respect for religious custom. I don’t know the rules of soccer or this particular league, but if they say “no head gear”, then it should be “no head gear”, for everybody.

  9. Quebec systematically supports racism, or at the very least bigotry. In 25 years Quebec will not be part of Canada, and real Canadians will rejoice.

    • Please shut up. If you want to talk racism let’s talk about the way Canada treats its native population. Or how many black people are in prison in Canada. This holier-than-thou attitude is embarrassing.

  10. It’s possible that this has been discussed elsewhere and I just missed it, but what exactly is the justification for a turban being considered dangerous or unsafe? There are several very obvious ways I can see something like jewellery causing an injury on the field, but I can’t even begin to envision a situation in which someone could be injured by a turban.

  11. Here is another much better article: http://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2013/06/12/forget_the_politics_and_let_the_children_play.html
    This issue is completely out of Parke’s league.

  12. Isn’t it just precious when Quebec pretends that it is France?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *