Soccer with turbans organized as protest in Quebec

Published: June 6, 2013

Local Sikhs play pick-up soccer next to the Gurdwara Guru Nanak Darbar in the Lasalle area of Montreal Wednesday.John Kenney / THE GAZETTE

MONIQUE BEAUDIN
THE GAZETTE

MONTREAL — It’s a typical scene on a summer evening in Montreal – boys and young men kicking around a soccer ball in a pickup game.

But for the group playing on a LaSalle soccer pitch Wednesday night, it wasn’t just a friendly, all-ages game.

Because they were almost all wearing small turbans called patkas, the two dozen players aren’t allowed to play soccer in recreational or competitive league games in Quebec.

The game, on the soccer pitch at the Gurdwara Guru Nanak Darbar Sikh temple, was organized as a protest against the decision by the Quebec Soccer Federation to uphold a ban on religious headgear on soccer fields.

The World Sikh Organization of Canada says the ban affects between 100 and 200 boys living in LaSalle, Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Pierrefonds and some off-island communities.

“I registered this year, but I’m not allowed to play,” said 17-year-old player Dilpreet Singh.

When the high school student, who has played soccer since he was a little boy, registered to play soccer in LaSalle this spring, he was told he probably wouldn’t be able to play because of the QSF ban. Urged on by his mother, he registered anyway. A few weeks later, he got a call to pick up a refund for his registration fees.

The ban was only partly enforced last season, Singh said. Some referees let him play, others didn’t.

“I thought it would be overturned because it was so bizarre,” Singh said.

Lachine resident Devinder Singh said he wonders what kind of impact the ban will have on young Sikh boys.

Dilpreet Singh plays in a pick-up soccer game next to the Gurdwara Guru Nanak Darbar temple in the Lasalle area of Montreal Wednesday. John Kenney /THE GAZETTE

“You’re asking them to choose between their sport and their faith, between their passion and their family,” he said.

He said he has played soccer for 20 years and never had any complaints about wearing a turban.

Several people at the game said they were bewildered by the QSF ban.

“How did it come up? How is it that all of a sudden turbans are hazardous?” said Amrik Singh Gill. “No one has a problem with a doctor, or a health-care worker, or a bus driver wearing a turban.”

Chatter Singh, secretary general of the LaSalle temple, said a soccer tournament is being planned for June 15 that will be open to any teams that want to play.

Related stories:

mbeaudin@ montrealgazette.com
twitter.com/moniquebeaudin

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