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The Turban Ban Doesn't Teach Kids to Play Fair

06/13/2013 12:19 EDT | Updated 08/13/2013 05:12 EDT

Recently the Quebec Soccer Federation upheld its standard of silliness by refusing to permit young Sikh soccer players who wear turbans or other head coverings from playing their favourite game. This follows hard on the heels of another organization's decision that prevented school-aged girls who wear hijab from playing soccer, too. While the decision that prevented the girls from playing was overturned, the Sikh boys in Quebec are still sidelined.

When asked the reason for the QSF's decision, one of the officials stated that it was for safety. When the interviewer asked what was unsafe about a turban, the official's response was that since she could not determine how the turban might be unsafe, she had to err on the side of protecting people.

Wait a minute. Don't soccer players wear cleats? I have seen quite a few injuries caused by badly aimed cleated soccer boots. I imagine that most people who play soccer are aware that injuries might occur. It is a physical game, players can collide and fall. All of this is clearly acceptable to the officials. While there may have been cloth head-covering-related injuries, neither the QSF official nor I have never heard about them. And neither has the Canadian Soccer Association. They have decided to suspend the QSF until they come to their senses.

Religious accommodation has become a difficult issue for many institutions. For example, should institutions, like schools, that have no-hats rules make exceptions for people who wear religious head coverings? In most of Canada we say they should. Let's ask the kids what they think. A soccer team in Brossard, Quebec, was so concerned about the decision to ban turbans that they all decided to wear them in a game -- even though not one of the players is Sikh.

This reminds me of something I wrote last year in Education Canada:

"There is a well-loved, but apocryphal story about the King of Denmark. It goes like this: When the Nazis invaded Denmark during the Second World War, they ordered the Danish Jews to don arm bands displaying the yellow star of David. Jews would no longer be permitted to appear in public without these symbols in plain view. The morning following the Nazi invasion, so the story goes, the King of Denmark rode out on his horse through the parks and streets wearing an armband with the yellow star. While this story is not factual, it has created an archetype, a symbol of bravery in the face of injustice. And, in truth, only a small number of Danish Jews ended up in the hands of the Nazis because their non-Jewish friends and neighbours found ingenious ways to protect them, to hide them, and to spirit them out of harm's way."

If we want our own children to learn to be courageous defenders of rights, we must first engage them in thinking critically about those rights. While adults may feel uncomfortable talking to children about the place of religion in society, we can still teach our children that people whose beliefs and practices differ from their own are deserving of respect and understanding. There is a tool to help families struggling with these conversations. TVO Parents and the Canadian Civil Liberties Education Trust have collaborated on a resource to engage children of all ages and their families in thoughtful discussions about freedom of religion. And CCLET has created a great short cartoon to help, too. Try them out and find out what your children think!

After all, don't we want our children to learn to play fair?

Turban Competition