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Resources Jun 14, 2013

Politics interfere with soccer in Quebec federation’s controversial turban ban

By Charles Boehm

Politics have intruded on youth soccer in Canada this month, as the Canadian Soccer Association and its regional member the Quebec Soccer Federation have become embroiled in a controversial conflict about the wearing of turbans and other religious head coverings on the field of play.

Citing safety concerns and using a few examples of vague FIFA language on the topic as justification, the QSF banned such head coverings in its provincial leagues earlier this month, prompting a firestorm of criticism from across Canada and the world.

The move effectively barred members of the province’s small Sikh community from taking part in youth leagues, reflecting a rising tide of unease among Quebec’s traditional French-Canadian population as their homeland grows increasingly multicultural and diverse.

The CSA swiftly stepped in, suspending the QSF and reminding Quebec officials that the topic has already been addressed: Turbans are permissable as long as they meet basic standards, like being “in keeping with the professional appearance of the player’s equipment” and matching the player’s jersey color.

“The Canadian Soccer Association has requested on 6 June that the Quebec Soccer Federation reverse its position on turbans/patkas/keski with no resolution,” said CSA president Victor Montagliani after meeting with his organization’s board of directors. “The Quebec Soccer Federation’s inaction has forced us to take measures in order to ensure soccer remains accessible to the largest number of Canadians.”

Suspension meant that QSF teams and players could not compete against other provinces, or participate in tournaments and other events outside Quebec.

And soon politicians waded in, with Quebec premier Pauline Marois approaching the issue from her region’s long-standing desire for autonomy from the rest of the country. Joey Saputo, president of MLS club Montreal Impact, called the CSA’s decision “exaggerated” and urged “common ground” between the parties.

“I think the Quebec federation has the right to establish its own regulations,” said Marois. “It is autonomous, not subject to the Canadian federation.”

That, unfortunately for QSF, is not the case, as it is a subordinate member to CSA in the same fashion as state associations are to the U.S. Soccer Federation, a fact that FIFA itself clarified this week.

It’s not the first time the Quebec federation has ventured into these contentious waters. The QSF instituted a ban on hijab (Muslim head coverings) several years ago that was only rescinded last year, but not before many young players and referees suffered in a conflict between their religion and the sport they love.

It looks as if the QSF is being reeled into line as its put-upon members raise an outcry and the rest of the soccer world grows critical. But the pain and anger among Quebec Sikhs and other communities may simmer for some time to come.

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