Referee tells Sikh boy to remove turban

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Sikh man with a Turban and uncut beard.
Picture by Paul Schmid / The Seattle Times

Referee 'told Sikh boy to remove turban - The Observer by Henry McDonald, Ireland editor, 14 December 2008

  • Family and anti-racist groups call on the Irish FA to investigate schoolboy football match incident

Football authorities in Dublin are investigating allegations that a referee tried to force a Sikh boy to take off his turban during a schoolboy match.

The family of Karpreet Singh and anti-racist campaigners have contacted the Football Association of Ireland over the alleged incident at Ashbourne in Co Meath a fortnight ago, which ended with the 12-year-old refusing to play in the second half.

The FAI has told Sport Against Racism Ireland and the Singh family they will meet them in the new year to discuss claims that the referee ordered the boy to remove his turban, then refused to talk to Karpreet's father after the game about his alleged remarks. Surinder Singh said that his anger over the alleged incident was compounded by what he claims was the referee's insensitivity when the game was over.

'Before the match the referee checked the two teams' boots and strips and the game began. He said nothing about anyone wearing anything on their heads,' he said. 'Then, 10 minutes into the match, he went over to my son and told him to remove the "headgear". Karpreet told the referee he couldn't take his turban off, and again the ref said to him to take the "headgear" off.

'The match went on and I could see that Karpreet was upset by the incident. When the team went in for half-time, Karpreet told his coach he didn't want to play in the second half. I knew he wasn't up for it. The whole thing had disturbed him and this is a boy who loves football.'

According to Surinder Singh, a previous coach of Hillcrest Soccer club, his son's team, tried to speak to the referee about his remarks.

'Instead of listening, the ref told the ex-coach to get off the pitch,' he claimed. 'I waited until the match was over and went over to the referee to talk about what he had said to my son. This man turned around and said "I don't have to talk to you!", and walked off without speaking to me. When I followed him he said: "Get away from me!" I couldn't believe how rude he was.'

Surinder Singh said the alleged incident was all the more shocking because, having been in Ireland for 24 years, he has never encountered any hostility. 'I try to make my kids integrate into Irish society. My eight-year-old daughter Japleen Kaur plays camogie for our local GAA club Sarsfields. Karpreet is dedicated to his soccer team and loves playing football. We never expected an attitude like that on the pitch, especially not from the referee.'

His son is a Manchester United fan who dreams of playing at Old Trafford. The schoolboy said he was 'very upset' by the alleged attitude of the referee but vowed to play on for his club. 'I love playing for the team and after the match my mates were brilliant. They all said they supported my decision not to take off my turban, which is so important to our religion.'

Karpreet said he would 'feel very nervous' now when playing matches while wearing his turban. 'I hope nobody else has an attitude like that again,' he said.

Sport Against Racism Ireland said it requested a meeting with the FAI over the alleged incident last week, but was told that it would have to wait until January.

'We would hope that referees who behave like that should be given the red card,' said Frank Buckley, SARI's co-founder. 'The FAI have signed up to 10 Uefa principles in encouraging social and religious integration in football. One of those principles concerns making referees and officials aware of players and supporters from different ethnic and religious backgrounds.

'Have referees officiating at games in all levels, including schoolboy soccer, been made aware of this? Not only does the FAI needs to get to the bottom of this incident, they also have to train up all our referees and officials in anti-racist, anti-sectarian policies.'

The FAI will not make any comment about the Singh family's allegations until they have held a meeting with them, the club and the schoolboy soccer league.

To combat racism and xenophobia as well as encourage immigrants to integrate better, SARI runs leagues involving teams from a variety of ethnic communities who have settled in the republic.

These articles deal with Sikh's Five ks

Kesh (uncut hair) -|- Kara (bangle) -|- Kanga (small comb) -|- Kachera (under garment) -|- Kirpan (sword)