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.
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 believe 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 do 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 head covering 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 cannot fully contest a case if they do not know what that case is.
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 head covering 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.