Dysfuntional Canadian soccer governance the true catalyst of Quebec turban ban


The Canadian Soccer Association’s decision to suspend the Quebec Soccer Federation for its highly controversial resolution to ban players who wear turbans from the field of play may have come to a conclusion, but its legacy will live on as yet another chapter of poor soccer governance in Canada.

Last week’s decision by the Quebec provincial body, has been reversed, but their decree captured national headlines across the country and led to charges of cultural insensitivity and racism from many circles.

Some rookie bloggers and observers have wrongly declared that this is an example of how our recently “reformed” national governing body is asserting its power against a rebel provincial body.
But really some better leadership and statesmanship by all the stakeholders could have avoided this latest mess that has once again given the sport of soccer a black eye in Canada.

The mess is really on the hands of the The Canadian Soccer Association as well for letting it happen.

So sorry to all you players who had that big tournament cancelled, or the family who was looking forward to the Father’s Day road trip to Montreal for your child’s soccer tournament, its not going to happen.

This most recent chapter in dysfunctional soccer governance is really nothing new to myself and other more seasoned fans and observers of the sport in Canada who have long known that the governance of the sport in this country is a joke.

This latest incident drives this point home to a whole new generation of players, fans and coaches not old enough to remember other great CSA moments like is failure to sanction Ontario’s National Soccer League back in the 1980s, its dropping the ball on the building of a national stadium several times and its mismanagement and underfunding of our national programs and development structure, losing a fortune at the FIFA U20 World Cup and then claiming it broke even after a FIFA bailout and so many other laughable bloopers and blunders.

I am an ex newspaper reporter who became accustomed to getting shaken out of bed early in the morning more than once to field calls from a disgruntled ex-CSA boss Kevan Pipe – who often took issue with my coverage of his organization and its all too often classic array of bloopers and blunders.

You will recall that our latest little episode crashed onto the front pages of newspapers across the nation, and around the world, when QSF director-general Brigitte Frot came under fire on June 3 during a media teleconference when she was asked what she would tell a five-year-old in a turban who shows up register for a soccer league with his friends.

Her response was essentially: Go play somewhere else.

“They can play in their backyard. But not with official referees, not in the official rules of soccer. They have no choice,” Frot said while echoes of laughter could be heard in the background during the call.

On Wednesday The Canadian Soccer Association said Quebec teams are banned from hosting and participating in national and international competition as long as it upholds its ban on Sikh turbans.

The beautiful game has long been hailed as a sport that tears down racial barriers and fosters greater cultural understanding by those who play the sport. FIFA trumpets it Fair Play initiatives and bids to stamp out racism in the game.

The Quebec federation is sanctioned by FIFA, and its handling of this highly devisive issue makes a mockery of all of these efforts and moreover exposes the scourge of institutionalized racism and intolerance which is alive and well today.

The decision of the QSF, and comments, didn’t sit well with The Canadian Soccer Association. After Frot and her federation ignored a directive to reverse the ban, they were suspended indefinitely.

Frot and her body continued to defend their ruling citing FIFA’s laws of the game. The only problem a FIFA representative responded to a Sikh community group on June 7, indicating that the world governing body does not disallow turbans in soccer matches.

On Friday FIFA came out against the QSF’s ridiculous ban.

“(FIFA) authorises the CSA to permit all players to wear head covers in all areas and on all levels of the Canadian football community,” a statement from FIFA read.

Then on Saturday the QSF announced they had lifted the ban and would comply with the FIFA directive, and hours later the CSA lifted its suspension putting an end to this ugly incident.

The actions of the QSF were slammed by critics from coast-to-coast, with a debate erupting in Canada’s House of Commons with their ruling even drawing fire Justin Trudeau, the son of former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

Montreal-born women’s national team member Rhian Wilkinson also denounced the ban in an online post.

The QSF decision also exposed a host of other problems in a province where government officials and police have been accused of discriminating against immigrants and non-francophones.

On Tuesday, in a show of solidarity with the provincial body Quebec’s premier Pauline Marois surprisingly came out in support of the turban ban in a statement which appeared to be more driven by a sense of Quebec nationalism than her knowledge of the Canadian soccer power structure. Marois declared that the Quebec Soccer Federation was autonomous from the federal governing body, which is clearly untrue.

The thing everyone refuses to remember here is that there are young children listening to this debate here and it is a dialogue they will remember their entire lives.

Readers comments in online versions of national newspapers such as The Globe and Mail and The National Post were in the hundreds and the story became one of their most viewed articles in past weeks

While most comments condemned the QSF for its cultural insensitivity and lack of vision, others supported the decision, exposing an alarming current of intolerance and prejudice in a country which is often praised for its tolerance and racial understanding.

“I completely agree with the Quebec Federation. The Royal Canadian Legion was right too. If you come to Canada, be Canadian… Enough of these silly foreign customs,” wrote one reader.

“I support and stand by this, no beekeeper suits! no towels on your head! no knives on a belt! no magic capets! no Voodoo! just NO RELIGION!!!!!!! So just tell that kid to get a decent hair cut and show up for the game like a normal Canadian and he’ll fit right in no problems,” wrote another reader.

The move did not affect Major League Soccer’s Montreal Impact who are sanctioned directly by the Canadian Soccer Association.

On Monday the club’s president Joey Saputo was another Quebecker who also supported the decision by Canada’s governing body to ban the QSF. Saputo said that accusations of racism against the provincial federation are uncalled for considering the context of the provincial body’s decision.

The overall point seems to be missed by many here - this entire ugly mess could have been avoided by better leadership and communication on the part of both governing bodies.

Calls for a further overhaul of soccer governance in Canada and those who govern need to be addressed immediately.