When Football and Politics Mix, Expect Fireworks

Sikh players unable to play in Quebec (Image from Getty)Whoever said football and politics shouldn’t mix was right. Unfortunately for Quebec Premier Pauline Marios, no one informed her of this saying which has left her slightly red faced after throwing her support behind a ruling by the Quebec Soccer Federation that was in itself controversial and somewhat poor judgment. The story began when a young Sikh player was warming up on a soccer field in Quebec before the start of a match. He was approached by the referee who invited him to remove his turban before playing as it was against FIFA regulations. When the player refused, he was prevented by the referee from playing in the match. The boys coach and parents, furious at the prevention appealed to the Quebec Soccer Federation for sanity only to be told that indeed the wearing of turbans in a match was not allowed according to the official FIFA rules.

Just let them play : Sikh children playing soccer  (Image from PA)
Just let them play : Sikh children playing soccer
(Image from PA)

In fact, what FIFA regulation rule 4 actually states, if interpreted correctly, is that no item of clothing shall be worn that could harm the player or an opposing one. A turban, unlike a watch or chain that can harm a player if caught, is not classified by FIFA as being included in this law but that did not stop the QSF. Forced to act following the decision to ban all players in the Quebec providence from wearing turbans on the soccer field, Canada’s footballing body, Canadian Soccer Association (who report into FIFA on behalf of Canada), jumped in to try and talk the QSF off the ledge. After failing to convince them of the true meaning of Rule 4, even with FIFA confirmation; the CSA suspended the QSF, prompting Marios into action. Whilst her actions were merely meant to protect her providence and its rights to govern soccer within the region, she completely failed to judge the situation and the fact that this was now a religious and human rights issue, rather than which dog can bark the loudest.

FIFA eventually had to step in  (Image from FIFA.com)
FIFA eventually had to step in
(Image from FIFA.com)

All three parties were equally at fault. The Quebec Federation needed to accept that their decision was misjudged and that a misinterpretation of the official laws had happened. They should have apologized and remove the ban immediately, allowing the hundreds of Sikh kids in the region to take the field once more. At the same time, the Canadian Soccer Association must admit that they too got a little emotional and overreacted by playing their stern hand with the suspension of the QSF. As for Premier Marios, who has received a fair amount of criticism from fellow politicians across Canada, she must learn that protecting her providence  and its sporting bodies is one thing but only if they are justified and correct with their decision making.

Premier Marois is regretting getting involved  (Image from CP)
Premier Marois is regretting getting involved
(Image from CP)

Luckily sanity has prevailed and the ban was removed following pressure and further clarification to the QSF from FIFA.  Despite the reversal, young Sikhs across Quebec have missed the deadline to register for the 2013 season, but the QSF have committed to solving this problem quickly allowing them to play.

Underneath all of this is one underlining point- Soccer (or football as 99% of the world calls it) is a global game that can and should be played by all regardless of gender, race or religious orientation. To prevent a child from playing the sport, or in fact any sport is a tragedy especially in an age of growing levels of obesity in children across the world. If a Sikh boy or girl, for that matter, wants to take the time to go out and play the game they love, then nothing should stand in their way- not referees, not governing bodies, and certainly not politicians.

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