Canadian soccer team protests discriminatory ban on turbans in most powerful way possible: By proudly wearing turbans

Cameron Smith

A group of Canadian youth soccer players made a statement about civil rights in the most bold way possible, supporting their peers of Sikh descent by deciding to collectively wear banned turbans during a game.

The FC Brossard team practices while wearing turbans in support of banned Sikh peers — Canadian Press/Montreal Gazette
The FC Brossard team practices while wearing turbans in support of banned Sikh peers — Canadian Press/Montreal Gazette

The protest action was necessitated by one of the more bizarre uniform code regulations of recent times. As reported in detail by the CBC, Canadian Press, Montreal Gazette and other sources, the Quebec Soccer Federation banned all players from wearing turbans in competitive action, a decision which in turn led to the QSF’s banishment from the Canadian Soccer Federation (CSF). As an unrecognized provincial body, the QSF will be ineligible to send any of its teams on to national-level competitions.

Officially, the QSF banned turbans for “health concerns,” though those concerns seem a bit overplayed. Nonetheless, the ban has received the support of Quebec Premier Pauline Marois (essentially Quebec’s governor), a representative of a Québécois separatist party who insisted that the QSF should be able to establish its own rules and regulations autonomously from the Canadian Soccer Federation.

Befitting such an edict, the QSF insisted that it would only relent on the turban ban if ordered to do so from FIFA, world soccer’s official governing body. FIFA instead deferred to the CSF, which promptly suspended the QSF’s membership because of the ban.

In the political game of football over provincial rights and autonomy, the proverbial ball are the young soccer players themselves. Initially, only players who were required to wear turbans out of religious adherence were being banned from competition; now all young soccer players are on the outs.

Yet, from this fire came one team which provided a powerful political message with utter simplicity and sheer grace. As brought to Prep Rally’s attention by our friends at Online Sports Guys, a Québécois under-14 coach named Ihab Leheta encouraged his players on the Brossard team -- none of whom are Sikh -- to play their next game wearing a turban as an act of solidarity to Quebec players who were suddenly banned from competition.

As it turns out, Leheta didn’t have to do much convincing. Instead, his young athletes understood the full ramifications of just how subjective the QSF’s ban was and were happy to provide a small flashpoint of powerful defiance.

“I told them you can either say: ‘It’s not my problem,’ or you could decide to do something to help out.

“I was so proud of them, [they understood] that today it’s Sikhs [being banned] and tomorrow it’ll be someone else.”

While Marois has supported the turban ban, other political leaders have been quick to speak out against it. One in particular, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, even pointed to the Brossard squad as a prime example of children who were acting better than their adult counterparts.

“Here in Canada, we are proud of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms that guarantees and protects religious freedom.

I would like to applaud those who have taken a strong stance on this issue, such as the Brossard soccer team that stood in solidarity with the Sikh community. They represent the Canada we want our children to inherit: one that does not tolerate division or fear.

Our country has benefited immeasurably from the contributions of the Sikh community, and Canadians are proud of the cultural vibrancy and diversity of our beautiful country.”

That’s well said, and it would serve some other politicians well to inherit some of that spirit and backbone and take their own political agendas somewhere far away from youth sports fields.

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