Pauline Marois backs Quebec soccer ban on turbans

MONTREAL – Pauline Marois is coming out kicking in defence of the Quebec Soccer Federation and its refusal to let turban-wearing kids play the sport.

The Canadian Soccer Association suspended the provincial association on Monday after it showed no sign of overturning its controversial decision to to uphold a ban on Sikh turbans, patkas and keskis on the soccer pitch.

The Quebec premier says it’s unacceptable that the national organization would suspend her province’s soccer federation.

Marois says the Quebec soccer body is autonomous, has a right to establish its own rules and is not bound to the Canadian association.

The Quebec organization cites safety concerns for banning turbans, and points out that the world governing body, FIFA, doesn’t specifically allow turbans.

But critics counter that FIFA’s rules don’t explicitly ban turbans, either.

Marois, leader of the sovereigntist Parti Quebecois, said she supports the orientations of the Quebec body’s decision.

The Quebec Soccer Federation did not immediately return calls Tuesday about the suspension and is expected to hold a meeting on the matter later Tuesday.

The national organization said last week it expected the Quebec association to reverse the ban, which has drawn international news coverage and condemnation from several federal politicians. It says the Quebec organization will be suspended until the turban restriction is overturned.

Its unclear how the suspension might affect Quebec’s soccer players. A spokeswoman for the Canadian Soccer Association said Tuesday that she did not have specific details on the suspension.

The impact, however, could be felt in a variety of ways unless the situation is resolved soon, according to Canadian Soccer News.

Its website said the suspension could prevent Quebec all-star teams from playing outside the province, and even cancel games within Quebec that involve a nationally certified referee. If the suspension lasts a long time, Quebec youth teams could also be blocked from participating in national championships, the Canadian Soccer News reported.

On Tuesday, even the president of Major League Soccer’s Montreal Impact weighed in on the turban-ban debate.

Joey Saputo said in a statement that kids should not be prevented from playing soccer because they wear a turban, but added that he thought the Canadian Soccer Association’s decision to suspend Quebec’s federation over the issue is “clearly exaggerated.”

He said the Quebec organization’s decision to ban turbans was based on a FIFA rule that is open to interpretation.

Saputo added that accusations of racism against the provincial federation were uncalled for considering the context of the Quebec body’s decision.

“The Canadian Soccer Association made a recommendation and did not officially state its position to provincial federations,” said Saputo, who also urged those involved to resolve the situation.

“All parties involved must find some common ground for the good of the sport.”

Shortly after the suspension was announced Monday, some of those who opposed the ban said they welcomed the national body’s tough-love approach.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney tweeted his approval: “Good to see CDN Soccer Association take action against the Quebec Soccer Federation over its ridiculous turban ban.”

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau echoed the sentiment, tweeting that “Barring kids from playing soccer because they wear a turban is wrong. The CSA is right to suspend the #QSF.”

The CSA reports directly to the FIFA world body and is responsible for granting or revoking the membership of provincial federations.