Kids Corner


Here We Go Again:
Bigotry Rears Its Ugly Head In Montreal's Soccer League





Montreal, Quebec, Canada

A number of boys in Montreal-area community of LaSalle have been told they can no longer play soccer because they wear religious head coverings.

Aneel Singh Samra, 17, registered for a house league soccer in LaSalle this year, but last Wednesday (May 16, 2012), when he went to sign a letter accepting to play by the rules, he was told that he wouldn't be permitted to play if he wore his turban (patka).

When he refused, his registration fee for the MU 17/18 league was refunded and his season cancelled.

Aneel said he has been playing soccer for about 10 years in LaSalle and has always worn his turban. He never had a problem prior to this year.

Aneel, who is a Sikh-Canadian, wears a turban made of thin material that keeps his long hair in a bun. He was told that if he wanted to play this year, he would have to forgo the turban, or to wrap his hair in a hairnet approved by FIFA, the international soccer federation.

"It's pretty degrading to do that,'' he said. "Because the whole point of a turban is to cover your head.''

He said he has encountered problems with his turban before.

Though he says he is good enough, he never bothered to try out to play on an inter-city team because he knows he wouldn't be permitted to play with his turban. Earlier this year, while playing for Beurling Academy, where he attends school, a referee warned his coach that the turban was not permitted, but the coach convinced the referee to allow Aneel to play anyway.

Aneel said he knows international soccer rules don't allow people to wear turbans, but in the past those rules were ignored.

Samra's father, Karnail Singh, said he's considering fighting the ruling, because he believes it is discriminatory.

"If it were dangerous, I would understand, but it's not dangerous,'' said Karmail Singh. "This is discrimination.''

Aneel wasn't the only person told he couldn't play. His neighbours were also forbidden to play if they wore turbans.

"They've been playing since they're five years old,'' said Gurdial Singh, whose 15- and 17-year-old sons were told they could not play. "This is very sad.''

LaSalle minor soccer association president Sofio Pagliaro said all boys who wear turbans have been told they can't play. He said the association can no longer ignore the rule because the regional body - the Lac St. Louis Regional Soccer Association - told the league that it will enforce the previously ignored rules.

"It's not up to us,'' said Pagliaro. "If we decide to let these players play and a referee from the region comes to ref that game, he is allowed to decline to ref that game, and then we would get fined.

"We feel terrible because LaSalle has a large community of kids who will be affected,'' Pagliaro added.

The issue of allowing head coverings in soccer leagues has drawn the ire of religious and human rights groups in recent years.

In 2007, an Ottawa team pulled out of a tournament in Laval after one of its players was asked to take off her hijab.

Last summer, a Quebec referee for the Lac St. Louis Regional Soccer Association was suspended after she refused to remove her head scarf.

The Alberta Soccer Association passed a resolution in 2007 allowing players to wear hijabs while playing. Players in Ontario also are allowed to wear the head covering.

Aneel said he doesn't understand why he's not allowed to play while wearing the covering.

"I read somewhere that the turban offers an unfair advantage for headers, but if anything, it would be a disadvantage because the ball would bounce in a funny way,'' he said.

The rules may soon be changing, at least for women.

The International Football Association Board voted in March to rescind its 2007 ban on women wearing hijabs - a vote set to be ratified in July. It's not known whether this would also affect men wearing turbans.

Either way, it will be too late to salvage Samra's soccer season which begins next week.

"I just hope that they change the rule to allow kids with turbans to play, because I just want to play this summer,'' Aneel said.



May 22, 2012


Conversation about this article

1: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), May 22, 2012, 10:39 AM.

Is it beyond Sikh-Canadian academics, scholars and public intellectuals to explain on Canadian TV that had it not been for Sikh sacrifices in the two World Wars, there would be NO Canada! ... it would have been part of the German-Japanese Nazi Coalition of the Third Reich.

2: Sandeep Singh Brar (Canada), May 22, 2012, 11:36 AM.

Quebec has chosen to follow the backward European agenda of intolerance towards religious accommodation found in France and Germany today, rather than the progressive agenda of Canada.

3: Gurjender Singh (Maryland, U.S.A.), May 22, 2012, 11:57 AM.

It is time for Sikh leaders, organizations and gurdwaras to spare some funds for public education through TV and other media and to show the incredible role Sikhs have played in the world. And as to how wekk Sikhs have fared in sports, etc. A caveat: we should never turn talibanic by ever insisting that Sikh children wear a full turban in sports or a patka or head-covering during swimming, for example. Reason and common sense must always prevail, while not compromising on our beliefs.

4: Jag Singh (London, England), May 22, 2012, 7:27 PM.

How can you play soccer if you're wearing a turban? You have to be able to head the ball. Won't the turban get knocked off during the game? [EDITOR: By 'turban', the author of the article is actually referring to a patka, which is what Sikh kids wear during soccer games.]

5: Sunny Grewal (Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada), May 22, 2012, 8:14 PM.

Quebec is a really funny place. They have been accusing English-speaking Canada for the last 140 years of secretly trying to stamp out French culture because of Anglo intolerance. The truth is that this country bends over backwards to accommodate the Quebecois. As a result, every single thing I purchase in this country has both French and English labels. The irony is that Quebec is hands down the most intolerant place in Canada when it comes to non-Quebecois and minority rights.

6: Estevan Hernandez (Reedley, California, U.S.A.), May 25, 2012, 7:37 AM.

I'm confused here because in 2008 FIFA passed a rule that ALLOWS HEADGEAR. I am also a Sikh and soon my son is going to be wearing his patka (my wife is Catholic, I converted after marriage), so I don't pressure my son into anything but he has been wanting to wear his patka/turban more and more lately. He has already expressed he wants to wear it for soccer. If somehow the rules state that a "turban" or "patka" cannot be worn, then if you really wish to cover your head the thing I would recommend is to buy a rugby helmet the goalkeeper from Chelsea CHEC wears. The rugby headgear is 100% legal. Again, headgear has been approved by FIFA whether that includes the allowance of "patka" or "turban" I am not 100% sure but that might be a great place to start looking for inconsistencies to get past this, and allow all Sikhs to wear their patkas and turbans with pride and without fear of being held out of a game or anything else of the like.

7: Estevan Hernandez (Reedley, California, U.S.A.), May 25, 2012, 7:46 AM.

Regarding the comment on the turban being knocked off: I play scrimmage games with friends and randomly pick up games at the local park. I wear a dastaar which is not the layered traditional turban you usually see but it's just a straight wrap. I have had no problems. At first I wore a 6 yard turban but I found it a little thick and heavy after I started sweating and now wear a thin one, like a 1 1/2 yard wrap, 2 1/2 times around and still I have no problems. Also, when I wrap for a game I do my top-knot more near the back of my head, that way I have clear heading space all through the front. It is rare to hit the ball with the back of your head, not saying it doesn't happen, but it's not really an issue. Also, a patka is a completely different story and although I've never worn one because I converted at an older age, I've seen Sikh kids compete in all types of sports and it never comes off.

8: Gurbux Singh (Chatsworth, California, USA), May 25, 2012, 12:23 PM.

My sport of choice was badminton and I was a champion singles player in Burma. I played with my joorrah which was secured with a black string wrapped around the joorrah and tied in a knot and I never had a problem. Anyone who is familiar with indoor badminton played with feather shuttlecocks knows how quick the movements are covering the court. My father who was a University Blue played soccer (football in Burma) with a joorrah tied with a handkerchief and I did not see it unravel at any time. Heading the ball was just part of the game and the joorrah is not a handicap.

9: Jagdeep (Punjab), September 17, 2012, 7:19 PM.

I think that they are scared and feeling a bit insecure. Football is a big passion in Europe and is followed like a religion. As we all can see that the turbanators are winning in all fields ... be it sports, business, education, professions, industry, etc. They know our abilities and know if we started playing the game they will just become audience. All I will request of our players is: never give up your Sikhi saroop. Whatever is the challenge, we will achieve success.

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Bigotry Rears Its Ugly Head In Montreal's Soccer League"

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