COLUMN: Cultural quotas not all bad

Frank Bucholtz weighs in on the controversy surrounding the exclusion of a soccer team for a lack of Indo-Canadian players.

The timing is terrible, and the substance of the complaints is pretty thin.

That’s my take on the furore over a Surrey Indo-Canadian soccer group excluding a team with more than four non-Indo-Canadians from competing in tournaments. The soccer association has its rules, which it is following, and those pointing fingers at it are simply trying to make this into a racial issue – which it isn’t.

The uproar relates to the B.C. Tigers, formerly the Punjab Tigers, which since 2009 have been trying to recruit players under-13 from a variety of ethnic backgrounds for its roster. This is a great idea and, in fact, it’s what happens on many Surrey soccer teams.

When my son played soccer on teams in both Surrey United and Surrey Youth associations, there were always players of different ethnic backgrounds on his teams. In his last two years of soccer play, when he was in high school, the majority of the players on his teams were Indo-Canadian. The teams were truly representative of Surrey, with boys from all kinds of ethnic backgrounds.

The Indo-Canadian Summer Soccer Association (ISSA) operates a league for summer play. This is not a major competitive soccer league. The competitive leagues operate from September to April, which is the normal soccer season here. The summer teams offer players a chance to keep playing when the other leagues are shut down.

A statement from president Sim Sumra notes that the tournaments the league operates are sponsored by Sikh gurdwaras, and are designed to “bring Indo-Canadian youth together to promote sport, participation and culture within our community,”

This is exactly what many other leagues in a wide variety of sports do all the time – bring together people of a certain background, occupation, race or religion together for fun, competition and cultural growth. Many of us have taken part in such sports activities.

It seems the concerns about ISSA were raised by a Tigers’ parent whose son is not an Indo-Canadian, after the Tigers were disqualified after reaching a tournament semi-final.

While her concerns are understandable, the association is entirely within its rights (and even onside with the Human Rights Code) to restrict the number of “imports” (their word) on each team.

The ISSA has been growing in popularity, because of the growth of the Indo-Canadian population in the Metro Vancouver region. It started with two teams in 1982. There are now about 400 teams taking part in ISSA and the associated United Summer Soccer League (USSL), for players aged five to 11. USSL is open to players of all ethnic backgrounds.

It sounds like both ISSA and USSL are trying hard to keep the doors open to people from other backgrounds. However, the ISSA limits the numbers of non-Indo-Canadians on each team.

Is that really a major problem?

All this controversy comes just a little more than a week after a terrible shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, which has distressed Sikhs all over the world. Many gathered at special services in Surrey last week to mourn for the dead and injured.

There have been several other disrespectful references in the past week to Indo-Canadians, via social media and on at least one local radio station. Coming just after the shooting, this is highly offensive.

It’s high time that all of us, no matter what our backgrounds, respected our neighbours who may have a different skin colour or religious belief, but are our fellow Canadians.

Frank Bucholtz writes Thursdays for the Peace Arch News. He is the editor of the Langley Times.



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