This weekend the Quebec Soccer Federation (QSF) votes on whether to lift a ban that prevents kids from playing soccer -- specifically Sikh players who wear turbans.
Kids, youth and adults, who wear turbans, have been banned from the soccer fields of Quebec since last summer, when it was determined by the QSF that it would not violate the rule, imposed by FIFA which banned all headgear on the soccer field.
It was the same rule that had previously affected Muslim soccer players and referees who wear the hijab. Last year, Sarah Benkirane, a referee in the Association Régionale de Soccer du Lac St-Louis, was removed from her duties, as a result.
Subsequently, on October 25th, 2012, FIFA amended its rules, allowing Muslim soccer players and refs back on the field with headscarves as long as they were safe and legal. However, the rule did not change to include Sikh soccer players who wear turbans.
So even after the ban was lifted on the hijab, Florin Buturca, of the Association Régionale de Soccer du Lac St-Louis confirmed that they would still enforce the ban on Sikh boys since the FIFA change only applied to girls.
This is according to Mukhbir Singh, who grew up in Montreal and resides there. Singh is Vice-President (Quebec and Atlantic Canada) of the World Sikh Organization and director of the Sikh Community Centre of Montreal. His organizations have been fighting the ban for the past year.
An avid soccer player, Singh too was banned from playing in the Association Régionale de Soccer du Lac St-Louis Winter soccer season (2012-2013). But his tenacity meant he didn't give up. Singh became a coach. His team won the championship.
And yes -- this is only in Quebec. According to Singh, "young Sikhs in soccer leagues across the rest of Canada are allowed to play while wearing turbans." And in mid-April of this year, The Canadian Soccer Association sent a memo formally asking provincial associations to permit turbans on their fields.
But the QSF continues to exclude players on the basis of faith.
What are the ramifications of such injustice?
Singh states: "After missing an entire season of soccer, I am worried about the large scale effect this could have on a whole generation of Sikhs living in Quebec if they are not allowed to play a sport due to their religious beliefs -- as you well know, sports is a great way for children to socialize, make new friends and it has been a great tool for integration. I myself, as a Sikh, have played soccer my whole life and can truly attest to what a positive influence it has had in my life. Many of my best friends now were once teammates where we learned to play together. Once you wear that jersey and see someone else wearing the same jersey, you are automatically linked with friendship - these abstract issues we have created don't matter to the children playing this game. I think it's something we can all learn from."
As a mom of three, I believe it is critical for kids and youth to become active and involved in sports.
My youngest, who is 9, plays soccer. My oldest two, who are 11 and 14, play hockey in a house league.
Last season, my husband (who played hockey from the time he could skate all the way up into the junior leagues) coached both teams.
Some of our team parents were unable to take their kids to games and practices regularly. So we drove them.
For a few of those kids playing hockey meant not only being part of a team but being part of the greater community.
It is evident that not only do kids need sports but we as a society need kids to remain involved in sports.
The positive outcome that results from a kid being on a team affects us all and makes the world a better place.
And in sports, crucial life lessons are learned.
You learn how to both gracefully accept defeat and humbly celebrate victory.
You learn to participate and take risks.
You learn about teamwork and cooperation. You learn that if you wanna score - you gotta pass and that you can't always blame the goalie.
And most importantly, you learn to include everyone.
It is a lesson that some of the grown-ups still don't get.