FIFA says Sikh head coverings are acceptable on soccer field

MONTREAL – Soccer’s world body has struck a blow against Quebec’s turban ban, saying such headwear is perfectly acceptable on the pitch.

FIFA said in a statement on Friday it is authorizing the wearing of male head covers at all levels of Canadian soccer.

The statement outlines certain guidelines for allowing the headwear on the pitch, but otherwise it sees no reason to ban it.

“(FIFA) authorises the CSA to permit all players to wear head covers … in all areas and on all levels of the Canadian football community,” the statement from the world body reads.

FIFA’s position comes four days after the Canadian Soccer Association suspended Quebec’s soccer federation after the provincial body banned the wearing of Sikh headwear.

The move risked turning Quebec into a soccer pariah, with players in that province isolated from national and interprovincial competition.

The Quebec organization had cited safety issues for its decision and the fact that the garments were not endorsed by FIFA.

The Quebec Soccer Federation said Friday that it welcomed the news “with enthusiasm and relief.” It said it had been waiting for clear instructions from FIFA, which had not been issued until Friday.

However, the Quebec body has not said exactly what it will do next. It will hold a news conference Saturday morning near Montreal. At that news conference, it said, it will reveal its board of directors’ decision with respect to the “lifting of the ban.”

The impact of the spat has already been felt.

This weekend, at least 20 out-of-province teams are skipping a tournament in Montreal. Some players in Quebec leagues have also decided to wear turbans in protest of the ban.

That ban had the support of Quebec’s Parti Quebecois government and some sovereigntists have even used the case as an argument for Quebec independence.

However, many federal politicians opposed the ban and applauded the CSA suspension – with the Conservatives and Liberals being the most forceful.

The FIFA decision extends a decision on female head scarves from October 2012.

According to FIFA, the head cover must be the same colour as the jersey; keep with the professional appearance of the player’s equipment; not be attached to a jersey and not pose any danger to the player wearing it.

FIFA sent the letter to the Canadian Soccer Association on Thursday and the organization says the matter will be discussed again in October with a final decision taking place in March 2014.

The World Sikh Organization welcomed FIFA’s declaration.

“It’s been our position from the outset that the accommodation of the turban shouldn’t hinge on FIFA rules but instead on the Canadian tradition of diversity and acceptance and also on Canadian rules and law,” said spokesman Balpreet Singh.

“This announcement is certainly good news. It’s absolutely clear now that any restriction on the wearing of the turban is illegitimate and we’re hopeful the Quebec Soccer Federation will now immediately lift its ban.

“The children should really be allowed to play as soon as possible.”

A community event planned for Montreal on Saturday will go ahead as scheduled, albeit under a different tone given Friday’s announcement.

Mukhbir Singh, vice-president for Quebec and the Atlantic region for the World Sikh Organization, says he’s thankful for FIFA’s stance.

He said the public support has been uplifting and refreshing.

Singh, 25, a Montreal soccer player who has also been forced off the pitch, said it’s satisfying to have worked to overturn the ban. He hopes the Quebec federation moves quickly to change its position.

“Whoever is affected by these recent developments, I hope they are all back on the field and no one misses another soccer game,” Singh said.

The community event in the city’s west end will go on as scheduled.

“Our goal was to rally together in a positive manner, to open a dialogue with the community,” Singh said.

“We didn’t want it to be a protest or a statement, we want it to be a positive event where we could explain that Sikhs are part of Quebec, we speak French and English and we’ve been here for a very long time.”

“The fact is we’re just like everyone else.”