The most popular youth sport in Canada brings together young and old of all races and creeds. Passion for the beautiful game overshadows linguistic, cultural, political and religious differences, while attracting both boys and girls equally. More than any other sport, income level does not represent a major obstacle to participation. This may partially explain soccer's worldwide popularity.
The Fédération de soccer du Québec (FSQ) caused quite a stir when it announced that a ban on headgear -- religious or not -- would be upheld.
The World Sikh Organization was quick to denounce the move, as were critics in the National Post and the Canadian Press. Some see the FSQ's policy as religious discrimination and/or racism, others see it as the absolute and draconian equality. Others question why Québec doesn't default to the policies from other provinces.
This issue deserves a collective conversation about reasonable accommodations. Unfortunately, Québec seems to be the only province with the courage and fortitude to examine this necessary synthesis which perfects the plural civilization that inhabits us. (For example, Canadians of Sikh faith are exempt from wearing motorcycle helmets in Manitoba and British Columbia.)
It behooves members of a multicultural society to apply flexibility so that each person can unite under one flag. The pendulum swings both ways: sometimes the dominant culture makes small adjustments. In other situation, minorities must attune and refine their foreign culture to adhere to the established Canadian standards. Although each case is unique, the vision of a just society is constant fixture of the Canadian landscape.
In the case of auxiliary clothing on the soccer field, the trend is clear: it is strictly forbidden. Necklaces, wedding rings, the kippah, the kirpan, and even earrings are prohibited, according to FIFA, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association. If a soccer club makes an exception for the turban, what other exemptions follow? The yarmulke? The kirpan? The crucifix on a chain necklace? Why would regulations apply to some but not to others? Should religion become the litmus test of participation in an hour-long youth game?
Canadians participate in "European football" for several reasons: to stay fit, to partake in fellowship, to enjoy the outdoors, to foster social integration, to practice teamwork, etc. My personal favourite reason: our teammates' financial status, level of education, political affiliations, marital status, preferred language and religious belief melt away when we join a soccer team. Each team member defines him/herself by their sporting ability and their team spirit. The soccer pitch is a rare haven where we set aside theological conflicts, socio-economic and regional disparities, political squabbles, etc. As FIFA struggles to address persistent racism exhibited in the sport, is it wise to add additional bias to the field?
By eliminating a religious symbol, the FSQ strengthens this cherished sporting sanctuary to which congregate almost half of all Canadian kids. In this oasis, there is room for only one religion: the one called "soccer." Aum and Amen.