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The turban debate: QSF using soccer’s version of the Notwithstanding Clause

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On Thursday evening, the Canadian Soccer Association tried to flex its muscle.

The CSA issued a release reasserting its support for allowing players with turbans, patkas and keski on soccer fields across Canada. It was a not-so-gentle reminder to the Quebec Soccer Federation; reminding the renegade factions in La Belle Province that the directive to allow the religious headwear on Canadian pitches was made by the CSA in April.

That directive was made in response to Quebec’s ongoing refusal to allow the headwear for official games in the province. It is the only association in Canada to have such a ban in place. Last Sunday, the QSF reaffirmed its support for the ban, defying the CSA directive.

“As an unequivocal majority of our membership agrees with our approach and has safe instituted it within their respective soccer communities, we expect the Quebec Soccer Federation to do the same,” said Victor Montagliani, President of the Canadian Soccer Association, in the release issued by the CSA. “The Canadian Soccer Association is committed to making soccer accessible to the largest number of Canadians and will continue to work towards resolving this important and sensitive issue in a timely fashion.”

Understanding that a lawsuit would likely put Canada in hot water with FIFA — which doesn’t allow government or interference in national soccer associations — it will be interesting to see how the CSA moves to resolve the situation. The 11 (CLICK HERE) has already suggested a ban on Quebec teams in CSA tournaments — such as national championships — until the province adheres to the directive.

And really, FIFA’s non-interference rules don’t help in this situation. While there are CSA bylaws on the books that the provincial organizations are supposed to follow, if it ever came to enforcing those rules, you need to either go to sports arbitrator or the courtroom. But only the sports arbitrator — like the one who resolved the dispute between the CSA and the
Canadian Soccer League (CLICK HERE) — keeps you in FIFA’s good books.

But, it’s time to hear from parents and players in Quebec. How do you feel about the ban? Unfortunately, the silence from the community organizations, regional leagues and such has been deafening. But here’s food for thought: if the QSF ignores a directive from the CSA, what’s to stop a Montreal or Quebec City local league from ignoring the QSF? Would they find allies in the CSA?

While Canada needs strong regional governments, because the physical size and diversity of the nation don’t create an environment for centralists, the QSF/CSA row over turbans shows the problems that can arise when a provincial organization says “non” to the federal one. Quebec knows the courts don’t offer a solution to the CSA, so, in an ironic way, the QSF has used a soccer version of the Notwithstanding Clause; that, if it really doesn’t want to, a province can opt out of a Charter order.

Right now, we have an uneasy stalemate; and while we wait for a resolution, there are kids and families in Quebec who can only bitterly wonder about why they can’t play — and what it says about a country that tends to be over-the-top and bit holier-than-thou when it comes to telling others about how tolerant and multicultural we are.

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