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Jun 4, 2013

Sikhs banned from playing in turbans

Sikh youngsters who want to play football in Quebec who wish to continue wearing their turbans while doing so have been told to "play in their backyard".

The Quebec Soccer Federation is insistent that the religious headwear cannot be worn during official matches for the safety of players. The Associated Press reports that the rules mean as many as 200 young players are unable to play in the Canadian province, the only one in the country which enforces the rule.

''They can play in their backyard, but not with official referees, not in the official rules of soccer,'' Brigitte Frot, director general of the provincial association, told a media conference call when asked what she would say to a five-year-old who wanted to register for a team with their friends. ''They have no choice.''

Quebec is the only province in Canada that has balked at allowing turbans on the field. As a result, about 100 to 200 youngsters are unable to play.

Despite a directive from the Canadian Soccer Association in April calling for provincial governing bodies to allow turbans, Frot said Sikhs would have to take their complaints to FIFA.

''They have to knock at FIFA's door,'' she said.

Conservative MP Parm Gill has written open letters to both the Quebec and Canadian associations expressing his disappointment at the situation and urging a compromise.

"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."

Balpreet Singh, a spokesman for the World Sikh Organisation of Canada, told The Canadian Press that the organisation is exploring its options and is considering taking legal action, he said.

Frot said her organisation was simply taking its cue from FIFA, which does not explicitly state in its regulations that turbans are allowed to be worn during matches. However, the world governing body recently relaxed its rules about the wearing of the Muslim hijab after studies into its safety were carried out, and Frot anticipates a similar course of action for turbans.

''We have an obligation as a federation to put player safety first,'' she said. ''FIFA has done this work for the hijab and, when they've done it for the turban, I have no doubt that FIFA will put out a directive authorising it and we'll be happy to follow suit.''