COLUMN: Discriminatory soccer turban ban an insult to all Canadians

Quebec Soccer Federation must reverse its decision to not allow turban-wearing children to play soccer.

The decision by the Quebec Soccer Federation (QSF) to ban turban-wearing players from playing the game of soccer is not only discriminatory, but an affront to all Canadians across this country who believe in the beauty of Canada’s multicultural spirit and its Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Canadian Soccer Association’s recent suspension of the QSF may certainly help in pressuring the provincial soccer federation to remove its turban ban. The form of discriminatory bullying carried out by QSF is appalling in today’s day and age and is a blemish on the multicultural tradition of this country. It both segregates and ostracizes turbaned children who simply want to play the game of soccer.

As a proud Canadian, I enjoyed playing the game of soccer as a child. As a turbaned Sikh, I never faced any discrimination on the soccer field. The very nature of this sport promotes diversity and teamwork, with young children of all backgrounds interacting with one another and collectively coming together to achieve a common goal. All I can remember of those fun days is an enjoyable game of soccer, accompanied with laughter and happiness eating oranges at break time and participating in exciting tournaments.

What will children, who have been banned by the QSF over the past year, remember of their childhood soccer experience? A committee of adults simply do not have the common sense to see just how damaging their actions could be on a Canadian society that is so accepting of differences and actively promotes the multicultural mosaic of this nation.

The QSF has supported its actions under false justifications of player safety. However, even from a purely objective standpoint, how many cases of injury can QSF attribute to the turban? Where is the empirical evidence which states that “X” number of turbaned soccer players have caused injuries on the field?

QSF’s attempts at tying discriminatory policies to so-called safety precautions simply have not withstood the public pressure and outcry from Canadians. Nowhere else in Canada, for example, does such a ban exist.

Furthermore, QSF says that it is simply following FIFA guidelines. However, nowhere does FIFA explicitly state any sort of ban on turbans. Additionally, QSF’s unilateral decision to ban turbaned players offends the millions of international soccer players and thousands of soccer federations around the world.

No organization has the right to set up its own discriminatory barriers. The very origins of soccer, dating back thousands of years, have roots in almost all parts of the world, including Europe, Asia and South America.

In the wake of this unfortunate decision by the QSF, one thing is certain – the multicultural spirit is well and alive in this nation, and has been stirred to action by QSF’s ignorant decision. There has been great protest from Canadians of all colours, races and religions from across this country. This is the true Canadian spirit. One only has to visit news websites or online petitions to see that the majority of Canadians are fully opposed to the actions of the QSF.

An online petition that I recently started (http://www.change.org/en-CA/petitions/quebec-soccer-federation-allow-sikhs-to-wear-turban-while-playing-soccer) calling on the QSF to remove its ban, for instance, has gained signatures from Canadians of almost every different colour and race, including Quebecers. 
In a society that is becoming more aware of bullying and mental health problems, it is utterly disappointing that an organization would carry out an action that runs counter to the progress that we are making on these issues. According to various academic studies and scholarly publications, discrimination can have many negative ramifications, especially for children. It can lead to mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and can affect the self-esteem of children. 
The recent action by the QSF has sent a wake-up call to Canadians across this country that our concepts of multiculturalism and diversity must be guarded very strongly. We must never forget how imperative it is that we maintain the delicate balance of fundamental freedoms and equality rights set forth in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

QSF: Your actions are not representative of Canadian principles. It is time for you to remove this ban and apologize for your actions, so that all Quebecers can finally enjoy the sport of soccer.

Japreet Lehal is a student at Simon Fraser University Surrey. He writes regularly for The Leader.

japreet@live.ca

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