Kamloops soccer tournament raises race issues
A race-related sports issue in Surrey has made its way to Kamloops, where the Indo-Canadian Soccer Tournament (ICST) will be held this weekend.
Nationwide attention has been given to a youth boys’ soccer team — the under-13 B.C. Tigers of the United Summer Soccer Association (USSA) — banned from official tournament play because it had too many “import players,” which, in practice, means too many non-Indo-Canadian players.
Rules written by the Indo-Canadian Soccer Association, the USSA’s governing body, state teams in the under-13 division are allowed a maximum of four import players.
The Tigers had seven and, when an opposition coach filed a protest, the club was ruled ineligible for a recent tournament final.
Debbie Christiansen, whose son is a Tiger, told several media outlets the rule is discriminatory.
“Our whole team, even our Indo-Canadian players and their parents, were flabbergasted,” Christiansen told the National Post.
“What sort of message does this send to our kids? Not a very good one, I don’t think. What about tolerance and respect?”
The tournament this weekend in Kamloops enforces a similar rule, according to organizer Onkar Gill.
Each team is allowed three import players, referred to as guest players.
Never once has the tournament had issues with discrimination or racism, Gill said, noting guest players “love playing in the tournament.”
There is nothing illegal about the import or guest-player rules.
According to the B.C. Human Rights Code, a non-profit social organization can give “preference to members of [an] identifiable group or class of persons” if that organization “has as a primary purpose the promotion of the interests and welfare of an identifiable group or class of persons characterized by a physical or mental disability or by a common race, religion, age, sex, marital status, political belief, colour, ancestry or place of origin.”
Import rules are not exclusive to Indo-Canadian leagues and tournaments.
There are Christian soccer leagues, for example, that only allow a certain number of non-church-attending players on their squads.
While it might not be illegal, some experts say that doesn’t make it right.
David Eby, executive director of the B.C. Civil Rights Association, questioned the USSA’s rules.
“There’s clearly a discrimination happening here based on race,” Eby told The Province.
“Is that the thing we want to promote in Canada?”
He suggested the Code be reviewed.
“It’s hard for me to imagine any justification for this,” Eby told the Post, noting the Code must be changed “because of this failure to link a legal justification to the discriminatory practice itself.”
The ICST will be played on McArthur Island’s soccer fields, owned and operated by the City of Kamloops.
Jeff Putnam, the city’s sport development and business operations manager, is familiar with the guest-player rule.
“Here in the Tournament Capital, we’re as inclusive as you can be as a municipality,” Putnam told KTW.
“What we don’t do is we don’t micromanage tournament organizers and how they want to run their tournaments.
“[The guest-player rule] has been a part of the tournament for a long time.
“Our focus is on making sure they have the best facilities possible and that’s why they keep coming back.”