US & Canada

Quebec soccer federation defends turban ban

Indian Sikh members praying after a turban-tying ceremony known as 'dastar bandi', traditionally held to mark the coming of age of male Sikhs, at a temple in Amritsar 7 July 2012
Image caption Sikh males, such as those seen here in India, don the turban as a religious requirement

Quebec's soccer federation has defended a turban ban for players in its youth leagues, saying Sikh boys "can play in their backyard".

On Monday, a spokeswoman for the group said turbans were a safety hazard.

Canadian Sikh organisations estimate the ban has stopped 200 children playing in federated leagues this year.

The World Sikh Organization of Canada said it was "deeply saddened" by the "unreasonable" decision.

The decision to uphold the ban comes despite a ruling by the Canadian Soccer Association allowing hijabs, or Islamic headscarves, as well as turbans, on the pitch.

'No choice'

In a conference call on Monday, Brigitte Frot, the director general of the Quebec Soccer Federation, was asked what would happen if a five-year-old Sikh player were to register to play with his friends.

"They can play in their backyard," Ms Frot said, "but not with official referees, not in the official rules of soccer. They have no choice."

Ms Frot told reporters the federation had not conducted safety studies on turbans, as the organisation did not have money for one. She was unaware of any related injuries in the province's leagues.

"The point is we don't know and because we don't know we don't want to take any chances," she said.

The vice-president of the World Sikh Organization of Canada, Mukhbir Singh, told Radio Canada there had never been an incident caused by turbans in the other Canadian provinces, where they are permitted.

The federation also said it was taking a cue from Fifa's turban rules, but the international football organisation has no regulations regarding the head covering.

'Insulting'

Conservative MP Parm Gill, an Indian Canadian, criticised the move.

"It is incredibly unfortunate and insulting that, in a nation that prides itself on diversity, such discriminatory regulations are allowed to stand," he said in a statement.

"There is no valid reason for a ban on the wearing of turbans or other religious symbols during athletic competitions."

Quebec's federation is the only provincial soccer organisation in the country that has banned the turban.

The World Sikh Organization of Canada said it was considering a legal challenge but said the season was already lost for many young players, as the registration deadline had passed.

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