Will This Never End? "No Turbans On The Pitch"
By: Shireen AHMED
In the last couple of months, I have written extensively and covered the issue of IFAB lifting the ban on hijabs on the pitch. As a footballer who chooses to wear hijab this issue was terribly personal and very important to me.
I have been playing for decades and am elated that Muslim players may now be included in international and FIFA sanctioned competition.
Even more recently, I was thrilled to find out that Quebec had rescinded and was going to be the last province to allow hijab on the pitch. For a variety of reasons the Quebec Soccer Federation (QSF) had been most reluctant to accept the ruling despite the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) encouraging lifting of the ban; as most other provinces had already done.
Fortunately, they could no longer pretend that their decisions were based on player safety and equality when IFAB struck down the ban in July 2012 and a FIFA-approved hijab was designed by a woman living in Montreal.
I was happy for the sport and for the opportunity for more women to participate in the beautiful game. I figured that the issue of headcoverings in the football world was now moot.
Late last week, I discovered that, once again, Quebec has banned headcoverings from the pitch. Not hijabs but to my disgust...Sikh turbans.
In traditional form Quebec has disallowed sikh turbans from the pitch despite directives from the the CSA to allow them. The QSF is a provincial body that governs the sport in its’ province. Some have questioned why the CSA can’t simply overrule the provincial body as they have been advocating for equal access for all players.
Unfortunately, the CSA can not interfere in issues of sport as they fall under provincial jurisdiction. CSA is the national body that is in charge of National programs and teams and represents Canada on the international level to FIFA and in CONCAF.
Not only will QSF not issue a statement, they refuse to address the issue before registration of the summer season begins.
The issue of the inclusion of religious clothing in sport has been percolating in Quebec for awhile. The impermissibility of hijab on the pitch garnered much attention in mainstream media in recent years since the Iran National Women’s squad was rejected from Olympic qualifying matches in June 2011, due to their hijabs.
At the same time in Quebec, there was a young Sikh player who was barred from playing with his turban. The incidents were not widely reported and infrequent.
And remained unresolved.
In May 2012, a teenager from a Montreal suburb registered to play in Lasalle.
Although he had already been playing for ten years, he was informed that he would have to lose his turban and play with a FIFA-sanctioned hairnet or not register at all. “It’s pretty degrading to do that because the whole point of turban is to cover your head” said Aneel Singh Samra.
He got his money back and did not play.
It seems as if this will be his fate and those of other Sikhs in Quebec this summer. Another season lost where they can’t play due to their decision to wear a headcovering out of religious observation.
Ironically, the Federal Minister of Sport in Canada is a Sikh from the riding of Bramalea-Gore-Malton. Minister Bal Singh Gosal has yet to issue a statement on this topic.
I think it is imperative that he, as the elected represented now holding the portfolio for State Sport in Canada contact the appropriate authorities of football in Quebec and request that this matter be resolved quickly.
FIFA must also address this issue and clarify that there is no issue for injury (the cited problem in the case of hijab) as the traditional turbans to not cover the neck of players.
Furthermore, there is no obvious “advantage” for turban wearers for heading the ball. Regardless of which as heading the ball is not obligatory in football.
This is a technicality that the QSF is hiding behind.
A colleague and friend of mine, Baljit Rihal explained: “Usually, Sikh boys (with unshorn hair) adorn a bandana like headcovering called a 'Patka'. This in effect is a mini turban and poses absolutely no safety threat to either the player or their opponents. Sikhs have been playing football across the world for many years without this ever being subject to a ban. I was born and brought up in London, UK and wore the patka whilst playing through school and even whilst trialling at county level football - the head covering was never an issue.” Rihal, who is founder of the prestigious Asian Football Awards, an initiative that recognizes the achievements of South Asians in Football, is clearly disappointed with the decision.
“Football is a game that brings communities together. The actions of the Quebec Soccer Federation can only be described as ludicrous and an attempt to exclude a community that have given so much to Canada. The Canadian Soccer Association has issued directives that Sikh's wearing the turban should not be banned from playing - it is beyond me why the QSA is not adhering to the country's policy. That is, in effect, like a UK County Football Association over ruling guidelines from The English FA,” he adds.
Until QSF issues a full statement explaining their reasons for banning the turban, it seems that young players are in an unfair limbo. They can’t fully contest a case if they don’t know what that case is.
The issue of proper uniform and kits in sport stinks more of political issue laced with xenophobia than of the safety and equality of players.
Is it necessary for a Sikh designer to create a particular prototype for Punjabi players?
How many more years of wasted time will continue until this bigotry and unnecessary prevention of participation is stopped?
World Sikh Organization of Canada (WSO) President Prem Singh Vinning issued a very sincere statement regarding the ban: “We fail to see what is so complicated about allowing Sikh children to play with their peers. What purpose does the QSF restriction on the turban serve? There is no conceivable justification for this. If there are genuine concerns, we are open to dialogue but if this situation is not quickly resolved, the real victims will be the children”.
As a footballer who wears a headcovering and was subject to rules that excluded me from playing with recognized clubs, I will not tolerate further prejudice and discrimination from Quebec on an issue that should have been shelved many years ago.
Football is for all of us.
crossposted at http://footynions.com/