Kids Corner


Sikh Turbans Grace Canadian Olympic Team



Some Canadians might not agree with the notion of altering or adding to the national team marching uniform for an Olympic opening ceremonies.

Yet after listening to Canadian field hockey player Ravi Singh Kahlon's eloquent explanation, you at least understand the reasoning why he and three fellow Sikh-Canadian players will wear turbans when marching into the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing on Friday (August 8, 2008).

The four players - Victoria's Ravi Singh Kahlon, Bindi Singh Kullar of North Delta, British Columbia, Gabbar Singh of Surrey, B.C., and Ranjeev Singh Deol of Mississauga, Ontario - don't wear turbans in everyday life.

So why now, on this mammoth stage, with the world watching?

"I want to challenge the identity issue", said Ravi Singh, who admitted the other three players, as well as assistant coach and former Canadian Olympian Nicki Singh Sandhu, were reluctant when he first broached the idea with them.

"I want to show that you can wear a turban and still be Canadian", he added.

The reaction of other teammates has been mixed, admitted Ravi, but most are supportive.

"When some of them first heard about this, a few said, 'This is the Canadian team, not the Indian team'", said Ravi.

Exactly, he noted. That is precisely the point he wants to make. A turban is a Sikh religious symbol and in no way an Indian national symbol. He said as a Canadian, he would never wear any symbol of Indian nationhood during the Olympics or at any international competition.

"This is no different than wearing a cross on your chest or a Jewish yarmulke during the opening ceremonies, which nobody would have any problem with", said Ravi, a Royal Bank of Canada mortgage specialist, and outstanding forward appearing in his second Olympic Games.

"We're a country of immigrants and this is a celebration of Canada and the fact that in our country, you can be anything you want to be. I think it's great that Italian-Canadians gather at shops along Commercial Drive (in Vancouver) and in Toronto to cheer on the Italian national soccer team. Nobody bats an eye about that. Nobody. They mean no offence. And we also mean no offence".

The family backgrounds of the two other Canadian players of Indian ancestry on Team Canada, Wayne Fernandes and Ken Pereira, as well as head coach Louis Mendonca, are Goan and not Sikh, so they won't be wearing turbans in the opening ceremonies.

Ravi was born and raised in Victoria, but said he is cognizant of the immigrant experience and it's that part of Canada he has chosen to celebrate when marching into the massive 91,000-seat Bird's Nest Stadium Friday, behind Canadian flag bearer and kayaker Adam van Koeverden of Oakville, Ontario.

"My dad had to cut his beard and lose his turban to get a job when he came to Canada (in 1970),",said Kahlon. "Now we can choose to wear a turban or not and it doesn't affect anybody making a living. Now we can celebrate that evolution of our country. During the opening ceremonies, I want people to think about Canadians coming in all kinds of packages, and yet we're all still Canadians".

Team Canada captain, Rob Short of Victoria, is supportive and any small grumbling there may be on the team will have to go through him.

Short and the Singhs go back a long way. There is a well-dented garage door in the Gordon Head area of suburban Victoria that tells the tale of a journey to the Beijing Games. That's where brothers Rob and Pete Short, along with Ravi, played their no-holds barred road hockey games in front of the Singh family home.

"The Sikh community in B.C. has been very good to us - it raised $15,000 in one weekend to help in our preparations for Beijing - and as captain, I have no problem with this (turbans in the opening ceremonies)", said Short.

"We all bring something of our backgrounds to our national team and as Canadians at the Olympics. This is a part of who Ravi, Bindi, Ranjeev and Gabbar are. My parents are English and that's why I came to play field hockey and not ice hockey".

Pete Short even takes it one step further.

"Pete asked if he could wear a turban, too, during the opening ceremonies", chuckled Ravi.

"I said maybe when we get back to Canada and have our post-Games party".

And you don't even have to ask the colour of the opening ceremonies turbans.

"Canadian red, of course", said Kahlon.


Cleve Dheensaw is in Beijing as part of the Canwest News Service Olympic Team

August 7, 2008

Conversation about this article

1: Parminder (New Delhi, India), August 08, 2008, 11:26 AM.

I saw just an hour ago the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics. And Sikhs in turbans on the Canadian team caught my attention during the parade. I was very happy to see them in turbans. My best wishes to all of them. (Note: there was not a single male Sikh on the Indian team!)

2: Suprit Pal Singh (Melbourne, Australia), August 08, 2008, 12:42 PM.

Sitting here in Melbourne, Australia, watching the Olympics opening ceremonies, I was touched by the contrast. The Indian team did not have a single male Sikh or turban to brag about this time and looked dull and drab, as compared to the colourful Canadian Team, which was full of Chardi Kalaa. I was moved by the courage of the sportsmen to sport the turban (despite the fact that they don't on a regular basis). It would be even better if they wore it all the time ... other than on the playfield, of course. Kudos to my Canadian brothers who have taken this small step in the right direction, to be a role model for my son and many other young Sikh children around the world. Role models make all the difference and your effort would make all the difference. It should not be long when we may be seeing an unsorn/untrimmed beard along with the turban, again, in the Olympics - in full glory, and splendid in handsomeness, in the image of and as disciples of Guru Gobind Singh. Bravo and Guru Fateh.

3: Vivek Khosla (New Delhi, India), August 08, 2008, 1:04 PM.

Just saw the opening ceremonies in Beijing. O Bhartiyo: kuchh sharam keejiye! O Hindustanio: yeh sab dekhiye! kuchh sochhiye! kuchh samjhiye! kuchh sharam keejiye!

4: Jobanpreet Singh Ghumman (Washington, U.S.A.), August 09, 2008, 2:53 AM.

Watching the 2008 Beijing Olympics, I saw the greatest and most heroic thing in Olympic history! A sardar, not only one but FIVE sardars during the entrance of Team Canada to the Opening Ceremony. I am impressed by the fact that finally sardars have once again made an appearance on this world stage. Yes, Singh is King!

5: Pranav Nihal Kaul (Auckland, New Zealand), August 10, 2008, 12:45 AM.

184 teams out of 204 wore some sort of head gear. It's absolutely disgusting to see the indian team (Remember, India which has a long history of different head gears, especially pugrees) without them. Even the Sikh members, barring two, didn't wear turbans. Without headgear, they looked dull. And then, the five Sikh-Canadians caught my attention with their exquisite turbans, looking like princes and walking like kings. For my son and I, that was the highlight of the Games. Thanks for making us so proud. And shame on the Indians and their dress designers and their decision makers ... up until the last Olympics, the Indian contingent always wore pugrees. Their demotion from "princes" to "desis" reflects their performance on the Olympic fields and arenas ... or the lack of it!

6: Manbir Banwait (Fort McMurray, Canada), August 10, 2008, 4:46 AM.

There were three sardars on the Indian team, for the record, marching with Team India during the opening ceremonies. So, I'm not sure why people are saying India didn't have any Sikhs on their team.

7: Jas (United Kingdom), August 10, 2008, 11:24 AM.

This might look impressive, but it is equivalent to a groom getting dressed up for his wedding and a photo opportunity and then discarding the turban.

8: Dhillon (Canada), August 10, 2008, 1:13 PM.

This moment really helped us as a lot of younger kids were watching. I really think that they did a great thing for Sikhs worldwide. Singh Is King!

9: Nim (Waterloo, Ontario, Canada), August 10, 2008, 3:12 PM.

Truly proud to be a Canadian!

10: Sandhu (Canada), August 10, 2008, 8:38 PM.

Just to clarify that there were six men wearing turbans, five of the Canadian Men's Field Hockey team and the sixth, a Sikh-Canadian weightlifter. They have all made us very proud and we wish them every success at the games, as well as in their lives. Thank you and God bless you. I know for a fact that those dastaars will not be "discarded" but kept as a reminder of their achievement and who they are.

11: Lakhvir Singh Khalsa (Nairobi, Kenya), August 11, 2008, 8:59 AM.

It's the beginning of a new sikh-pride that India is losing fast. However, somehow, I felt that the Chardi Kalaa aspect of these turbanned Canadian sikhs was missing. The real essence of the Sikh turban is to exhibit the image of the guru. Nothing compares to the latter.

12: Gurpartap (Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada), August 11, 2008, 10:24 AM.

Proud to be a Sikh-Canadian! Singh is King. Keep it up, guys and ... start wearing turbans in daily life too ... you look so smart!

13: Bob (Ottawa, Canada), August 12, 2008, 11:04 PM.

I'm neither a Sikh nor an Indian by ancestry, nor a visible minority (4th generation WASP actually), but I am a Canadian who lived in India for many years and I take great pride in seeing the real Canada, which includes Sikhs in turbans (and every other ethnicity, religion and colour, dressing as they choose), represented as such on the Canadian team. Well done, guys!

14: Brij Pal Singh (Patiala, Punjab), August 19, 2008, 10:41 AM.

Love to those Canadians who, having forsaken the full discipline of Sikhi in their day to day life, have yet some of the spirit left.

15: Rajan Singh Patialvi (Patiala, Punjab), August 22, 2009, 10:24 PM.

Waheguru ji ka Khalsa, Waheguru ji ki Fateh!

16: Sarjit Singh Sandhu (London, United Kingdom), March 25, 2010, 8:46 AM.

Look at all the good things happening in the diaspora, and then look at our Punjab! We need to get our 'Khalsa Raj' back - but first, we need to tackle those amongst us who are the dogras of today!

17: Paramjit Singh (Batala, Punjab ), August 07, 2010, 7:28 AM.

Vive le Turban!

18: Jaspal Singh (Delhi, India), January 31, 2011, 9:39 AM.

A turban adds personality - it gives one dignity. And makes me feel proud to be a Sikh.

19: Ramanjeet Singh (India), March 26, 2011, 7:04 AM.

A turban is a crown given to Sikhs by Guru Gobind Singh.

20: Harvinder Singh (India), May 11, 2011, 8:21 AM.

Puggh bun-ni na jayo bhul oye Sikho ...

21: Dilbag Singh Danger (Italy), October 02, 2011, 3:56 AM.

I am proud of being a Sikh.

22: Gurpinder Singh (India), October 18, 2011, 8:24 AM.

Sikhaa(n) di Shaan!

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