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FIFA’s turban endorsement has troubling loopholes

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FIFA now has confirmed that turbans are allowed on the fields of play… with conditions.

The “with conditions” part should be of some concern, because the loopholes that exist in Friday’s FIFA pronouncement are wide enough to drive a truck through.

Soccer’s governing body made a public statement Friday confirming that it has, as it awaits a final decision on the issue of turbans on the field, have an interim endorsement of the religious headwear in place. The letter was aimed directly at the Canadian Soccer Association, which on Monday decided to suspend the Quebec Soccer Federation for not allowing the headgear on its fields of play. The QSF, despite the suspension, decided to uphold its ban.

Here is the letter:

Following communication between the CSA and FIFA, the matter related to Law 4 – The Player’s Equipment, the use of head covers and the situation arisen within the CSA has been presented to the members of the International Football Association Board (IFAB) for discussion.

The IFAB has exceptionally agreed to extend the conditions of the current experiment previously approved by IFAB in October 2012 (as per FIFA circular no. 1322), and to allow male players in Canada to wear head covers as well, as long as the following conditions are respected:

The head cover must:
• be of the same colour as the jersey
• be in keeping with the professional appearance of the player’s equipment
• not be attached to the jersey
• not pose any danger to the player wearing it or any other player (e.g. opening/closing mechanism around neck)

The letter sent by FIFA to the CSA on 13 June 2013 authorizes the CSA to permit all players to wear head covers as described above, in all areas and on all levels of the Canadian football community.

This matter will once again be discussed by the IFAB in October 2013, before a final decision is reached at the next Annual General Meeting of the IFAB, taking place in March 2014.

The conditions aren’t new; they date back to 2012. The IFAB already set these out in dealing with other religious headwear. But, they aren’t as clear and concise as the CSA’s own directive on turbans, which went out in April. The FIFA ruling is so grey, you could argue that it allows a body to draft regulations that allow headgear, but in a very restrictive fashion.

Example, the very first caveat: “Be of the same colour as the jersey” could be very restrictive. What if the jersey is multicoloured, hooped or striped? What if the headwear is royal blue but the jersey is sky blue? How many of us out there have ever seen a men’s league game where a Sikh player is wearing headgear that’s a different colour than the jersey? Now, FIFA is saying you can’t do that. It’s permissive and restrictive at the same time.

Now, to the next point: The headwear must “be in keeping with the professional appearance of the player’s equipment.” What does that mean? Law 4 has always left it up to the referee to decide if equipment was dangerous or not; but this paragraph could open it up to bureaucrats and other ne’er do wells to determine what the heck “professional appearance” means. To any lawyer, that second condition from FIFA is almost like Notwithstanding Clause stuck right into the document.

Compare the FIFA directive to the April directive from the CSA: This what the CSA wrote…
“The CSA Board of Directors , at its meeting on 23 March 2013, confirmed that, in light of this IFAB decision,referees may, until further notice, extend this ruling to the wearing of turbans/patkas/keski. The head covering must be safe and must not pose a danger to the wearer or other participants, as per Law 4 of the FIFA Laws of the Game. All items of clothing or equipment are subject to the inspection of the match referee.”

No clauses about colours or “professional appearance.”

The spirit of the FIDA document will (hopefully) pressure Quebec to allow turbans. But it also gives the QSF the wiggle room to draft a bylaw that states a) the headwear must exactly match the colour of the jersey and b) or to set a professional “standard” appearance for religious headwear, which could be restrictive.

Common sense, we hope, will prevail. But the FIFA rules feel like letting the genie out of the bottle. You may be granted a wish, but be careful what you wish for.

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2 Comments

  1. Bill Currie

    June 14, 2013 at 6:19 pm

    Hi Steve,

    While your points are valid, the “loopholes” are not as wide as you think. In every instance, these guidelines are going to be applied by referees at pitch level (the way Law 4 intended). A referee who bans head wear they feel contravenes these guidelines is going to have to justify that decision to their association. Most referees will just want want to get on with the game.

    If a situation arises where an association upholds a referee’s decision to remove a player over head wear, that association will have to tell the player exactly what he must do to comply with the CSA’s guidelines. In the end, that player will know what he has to fix in order to play.

    • Steven Sandor

      June 14, 2013 at 6:43 pm

      I hope so. Common sense should prevail, and I think that should be the aim.

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