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Canadian Soccer Assocation steps in on Quebec turban ban

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The Canadian Press
6/7/2013 1:35:21 PM
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MONTREAL -- The Canadian Soccer Association is working to overturn a ban on turbans in Quebec and says provincial representatives there had no right to impose such a rule.

The organization has waded more forcefully into the controversy over the Quebec Soccer Federation's decision to restrict turban-wearing children from the pitch.

The Ottawa-based association said Friday it is discussing the matter with the provincial body, that it considers the issue a top priority, and that it expects a change in position.

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

Its bylaws stipulate that it sets the rules in this country and has the power to suspend, or expel, a provincial association.

The association will not discuss whether it has arrived at the threat-issuing stage. However, it confirms it has reopened discussions with Quebec in the hope of forcing it to drop a position that has generated attention from international media.

"(This) is the governing body for the sport in the country," said a Canadian association official, requesting anonymity.

"The Quebec Soccer Federation falls under our supervision. So they would apply the regulations the way we mandate them to."

The Canadian association has instructed all provincial bodies to allow players with turbans. Quebec's is the only to have refused.

Quebec's federation explained this week it was concerned about safety and pointed out that the rules of the world governing body, FIFA, don't specifically allow turbans. Critics of the Quebec decision point out that FIFA's rules don't ban them, either.

A spokesman for the provincial organization said Friday there would be no comment and added that nobody in the administration was available to discuss the matter.

The voice mail of director-general Brigitte Frot, who made controversial comments earlier this week, said she was outside the office and would return Monday.

Frot was asked during a teleconference what she would tell a five-year-old boy in a turban who showed up to register to play soccer with his friends. She replied: "They can play in their backyard."

The Quebec decision applies to between 100 and 200 people, according to estimates from the local Sikh community.

The move has drawn coverage from some major foreign media, including the BBC, and earned condemnation from many federal politicians, especially within the Conservative government and the Opposition Liberals.

But within Quebec, aside from the occasional critical newspaper column, there has been little sign of a public backlash.

The Quebec soccer body's sponsors, for instance, have resisted pressure to get involved.

The Saputo cheese company and the Couche-Tard chain, which owns Mac's convenience stores across Canada, have refused to offer any opinion on the matter.

The Canadian soccer official said the national agency took up the issue again with provincial officials after the ban was announced following a board vote last weekend.

"That's the discussion we're having with them... We're working on it."

The president of the Canadian Soccer Association, Victor Montagliani, said in a statement Thursday that a clear majority of members agreed with allowing turbans and wanted Quebec to reverse course.

He said the association wants to make soccer accessible to the largest number of Canadians and hopes to resolve the issue quickly.

One longtime soccer coach and FIFA player agent said it would be a shame if Quebec discouraged a future star from taking up soccer.

Dino Anastopulos, who has coached star players in B.C., said he's never seen a turban-related injury in 25 years of coaching.

Some of his former players include Portuguese national team goalie Daniel Fernandes and Gianluca Zavarise, a Canadian national with Toronto FC.

"I find it completely unacceptable that they can tell children that they can't take part in such a beautiful game," said Anastopulos, technical director of the Marpole Soccer Club in B.C.

"What are we saying to this child -- that he's not fully Canadian?"

He said the game should actually be a way for children from vastly different backgrounds to meet and get to know each other.

"When they play, and interact, they can see they're not that different from each other.... A good person is a good person," he said.

"We can use the power of the sport as an educator, to break down these walls."

Canada Soccer (Photo: CSA)

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(Photo: CSA)
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