Marois backs Quebec soccer federation

QUEBEC — The Parti Québécois government has ventured into the turban debate for the first time.

Premier Pauline Marois deems “unacceptable” the Canadian Soccer Association’s decision to suspend the Quebec federation over the turban issue.

“I think the Quebec federation has the right to establish its own regulations,” Marois said. “It is autonomous, not subject to the Canadian federation, and in this regard I support it in its orientations.”

Last week ministers steered a wide berth around the question. Democratic Institutions Minister Bernard Drainville, who is also responsible for Quebec’s secular charter, would only acknowledge the decision without further comment.

That all changed Tuesday with the decision by the Canadian Soccer Assocation to suspend the Quebec federation for “their non-compliance to the directive” that allows turban wearing in the game.

Suddenly, the issue was transformed into a matter of provincial autonomy and, besides Marois, two PQ ministers stepped up to denounce the decision.

Later, there was an attempt to get a National Assembly vote to condemn the Canadian body, but MNAs could not agree on the wording of a motion.

“I find the position of the Canadian federation deplorable,” said Marie Malavoy, the minister responsible for sport, who until now had nothing to say about the issue.

She noted that the decision has sweeping consequences and will penalize soccer players who now will not be able to participate in the Canada Games in Sherbrooke this summer.

“I will be present at the Canada Games in Sherbrooke soon, and I know there are youths who dream of going and I really want the Canadian association to leave us alone and let us take our decisions because youth will suffer in the short term,” Malavoy said.

Asked if Quebec can act, Malavoy said: “We have no formal power (in this matter) but we have the power to say what we think.”

And for the first time since the controversy erupted, the government endorsed the Quebec federation’s right to make its own initial decision to exclude turban-wearing youth.

“We start from the principle that the Quebec Soccer Federation is allowed to decide what happens on soccer fields,” said Drainville.

“The Quebec federation has the power, has the right to decide what happens on Quebec’s soccer fields and I don’t understand why the Canadian federation does not respect the autonomy of the Quebec federation.

“We respect the autonomy of the Quebec federation to take its decisions. ... It has the right to take these decisions and we don’t understand why the Canadian federation is interfering in the decision of the Quebec Soccer Federation.

“How does what happens on Quebec’s soccer fields concern them?”

But other politicians were more cautious.

Liberal house leader Jean-Marc Fournier repeated his statement that the issue is highly sensitive and requires a nuanced approach.
He said the choice made by FIFA on play with the hijab was to allow it while monitoring and evaluating the safety issue for a period of time.
The same rule could apply on turbans and players could play now.

“I don’t think the adversarial approach in this serves youth or sport,” Fournier said noting he does not approve of the Quebec federation’s decision to ban the turban.

“People need to talk instead of going the route of banning and exclusion. This is an issue where we need nuance and place for dialogue.”

Coalition Avenir Québec Leader François Legault was not available Tuesday, but last week was one of the rare politicians to have a viewpoint.

“We are not dealing with religious accommodations here,” Legault said. “What I understand is that the federation used FIFA rules to make a decision, and I respect that decision of the federation.”

“It’s a controversy that’s not needed, that will just penalize some young people,” Québec-solidaire MNA Amir Khadir said Tuesday. “That’s not the way to implement secularism in our society.

“It’s sad. We are now in a mess.”

Pauthier@montrealgazette.com.

Twitter: philipauthier

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Comments

Surely soccer cleats pose a more serious risk than a cotton turban. How many turban incidents have there been in soccer in the world in the past 10 years? How would a turban pose a risk?