06/13/2013 12:55 EDT | Updated 08/13/2013 05:12 EDT

Quebec's status as soccer pariah kicks in: 20 teams pull out of tournament over turban ban

MONTREAL - The isolation of Quebec's soccer community begins this weekend.

Hundreds of Ontarians are pulling out of a weekend tournament in Montreal, the mass shunning prompted by a political dispute over Quebec soccer's ban on turbans.

The Montreal host association has confirmed that 20 Ontario youth teams are not being allowed to come to play. An official with the Lac St-Louis Regional Soccer Association said about 170 teams, mostly from the Montreal area, were invited to take part in the weekend tournament.

Director-General Edouard St-Lo says Ontario teams are not being allowed to take part because they can't get travel permits from the Ontario Soccer Association.

"Why they revoked their permit? I can't tell you," St-Lo said when reached Thursday by telephone.

This week, the Canadian Soccer Association suspended the Quebec Soccer Federation over its controversial turban ban.

The suspension includes prohibiting Quebec teams from participating in — or hosting — interprovincial matches and national competitions.

The dispute has attracted international news coverage and drawn in numerous politicians.

It has also placed different value systems on a collision course.

The current Parti Quebecois government, critics of laissez-faire multiculturalism, are defending the right to banish certain displays of religious faith from the public space in the name of secularism.

The PQ has placed its support behind the QSF. One nationalist newspaper columnist in Montreal has even used the dispute to illustrate the need for Quebec independence.

In an echo of the intergovernmental disputes that frequently typify Canadian federalism, Premier Pauline Marois has argued that the national association has no right to tell the provincial one what to do.

However, the national body argues that it is indeed the recognized authority within the country and its decisions are binding on provincial associations.

Even the Quebec federation's bylaws debunk the premier's claim.

The QSF's rule No. 5 says: "(The QSF) is affiliated to, and under the jurisdiction of, the Canadian Soccer Association and is subject to its rules unless it has received a specific exemption."

The marching orders are clear elsewhere.

In Ontario, an employee at the Toronto Soccer Association said the group takes its instructions from the Ontario Soccer Association.

The TSA, which has 16 member clubs, is among the local associations to have received a notification from the provincial body indicating that until the situation is resolved it cannot approve anything that has to do with Quebec.

The sanctions imposed by the national body have also received support from a number of federal politicians, in different parties.

Even within Quebec, there are small pockets of resistance to the turban ban.

In the more Anglo, more pro-Canada western tip of Montreal, there are hints that some local leagues might try to defy the anti-turban edict.

Fern da Silva, president of the Pierrefonds Soccer Association, said in an interview that he doesn't agree with the provincial order.

About 2,500 children — including about a dozen who wear turbans — play in the soccer group in the northwest section of the city.

"In the club, we've decided that we're going to do whatever we feel is right," da Silva said.

"You may go to any field and not see any kid with a turban and then you might get a game where there are two or three... So far we've been able to get along, regardless of the ruling, and we haven't had any issues."

The provincial federation has threatened to fine referees if they let players play in religious headwear. However, da Silva said he is leaving it up to his referees to decide what to do.

"My refs have already been told to be very objective about it and look at it and if there's really, really a safety issue, we'll deal with it," he said, adding that the Quebec federation's argument that turbans are a safety issue "is totally erroneous."

But da Silva isn't letting the Canadian Soccer Association off the hook, either. He said the CSA has to shoulder some of the blame because, he said, it had been unclear in its wishes and previously left the impression that provincial bodies were free to decide as they wished.

Da Silva said hopes the issue is resolved as soon as possible "and we all get back to what we're supposed to be doing — looking after the kids on the field and getting as many kids as possible on the fields."

As for this weekend's tournament, St-Lo says he's scrambling to replace the out-of-province teams with other local teams.

"That's what we're working on," he said, adding that he didn't foresee any problems trying to replace the 20 Ontario teams.