Quebec Politics Creep into Soccer with Turban Ban

Turban ban mixes soccer, politics and culture in a dangerous cocktail
by Henrik Lonne   |   Thursday, June 13, 2013

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With no prior knowledge of Quebec or FIFA rulings, the Quebec Soccer Federation (QSF) ban on turbans while playing soccer could come off reasonable. There is a ban against objects that can pose a danger for run of play, and if the premise of the QSF is accepted, the ban would seem acceptable.

But FIFA rulings give the absolute authority to the referee, who in an individual match decides whether or not a piece of jewellery or accessory poses a danger – not the federation organizing the event.

Also, contrary to what Quebec Premier Pauline Marois claims, the QSF is not an autonomous organization, but falls within the jurisdiction the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA). So when the CSA told the QSF that its ban on turbans is unlawful, the CSA’s decision supersedes the QSF decision.

The issue has, however, gone beyond soccer. For those unfamiliar with Quebec politics and culture, Quebec is ruled by the Parti Quebecois (PQ), which, similar to movements in Europe, is fearful about the future of the local culture and language due to globalization and immigration.

The PQ has toughened language laws promoting the French language, meaning even Italian restaurants have faced difficulties with having Italian as a more prominent language. At the same time, the provincial government is a large sponsor for soccer in the province. Previously it was even a jersey sponsor for the second division Montreal Impact, and as such, the provincial government is an influential stakeholder in Quebecois soccer.

While only speculation, one can only think that Joey Saputo’s comments – that the CSA’s reaction was exaggerated – may have been influenced by the money flowing from the provincial government into the pockets of the Impact.

Some have made the argument that Quebec is fighting for secularism, but here we are talking about a province that keeps a crucifix in its legislative assembly, gives special treatment to Catholic schools and at the top of Mount Royal, there is a huge cross, a symbol that has even been incorporated into the Impact’s MLS jersey.

Regardless of the motivation behind, it is sad to see Quebec politicians hijacking a quite simple question: should kids and adults playing recreational soccer be allowed to play wearing turbans? Quebec is making it a part of separatist politics, claiming it is about the sovereignty of the QSF or whether or not religious symbols are allowed.

Quebec has already been at the centre of the type of attention when the QSF banned hijabs, a ban later overturned by FIFA. And with the recent development of the turban ban and the stand-off against the CSA, this seems more like an organization positioning itself to please the Quebec politicians, a source of resources, than as a way of making soccer inclusive and growing the sport in the country.

The argument made by the QSF citing security reasons is weak. No injury caused by turbans has ever been recorded. Furthermore as pointed out earlier, FIFA regulation puts the authority over which accessories are acceptable on the field with the referee.

The QSF should ignore the PQ and the provincial government of Quebec and respect the authority of the CSA. Not just because of the legal aspect of it, but because this is the best for soccer in Canada.

Henrik LONNE

Copenhagen Business School
Club Domestic:
AGF Aarhus
Club Foreign:
Toronto FC
Born and raised in Denmark, the US performance in the 2002 World Cup dragged Henrik into the world of North American soccer. Subsequent trips to Canada made him a Toronto FC fan from abroad. The passion he now has for MLS outshines most European leagues.