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Sikh former EFL referee Jarnail Singh and Sky Sports to call on football Iawmakers to issue clarification on religious head coverings

Sky Sports and trailblazing ex-EFL referee Jarnail Singh to call on football's lawmakers to extend recent FA guidance on religious head coverings; it comes after a young Sikh player in Spain was reportedly told he could not play while wearing a religious head covering called a patka

Jarnail Singh and Sky Sports' Dev Trehan
Image: Jarnail Singh and Sky Sports have worked together in support of South Asians in Football for almost a decade

English league football's first turbaned Sikh referee Jarnail Singh and Sky Sports are calling on world football's lawmakers to extend recent FA guidance on religious head coverings.

Match officials at every level of English football were last month issued with guidance on offences involving religious head coverings - after Sky Sports and former referee Singh raised concerns about an incident in a Spartan South Midlands League match involving a Sikh-Punjabi player.

In a Spanish junior game less than a week later, local newspaper La Vanguardia reported that a 15-year-old Sikh boy was allegedly asked by a match official to remove his patka - which is a religious head covering worn by many Sikhs - with the referee mistaking the head covering for a hat. Both sets of players also reportedly left the field of play in protest.

The incident has prompted Singh and Sky Sports to approach the Football Association's refereeing department and express a shared desire to take the matter to the International Football Association Board (IFAB), using the FA's recent guidance to illustrate why it is necessary for lawmakers to issue an urgent clarification.

IFAB is comprised of the national football associations of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. World football's governing body FIFA is also part of IFAB and represents all of the other national associations. Sky Sports News has contacted IFAB for comment.

FIFA has allowed male and female players to wear religious head coverings since 2014 after a successful two-year trial, which had been approved by IFAB.

The issue had been brought into focus after Iran Women withdrew from an Olympic qualifier with Jordan in 2011 after the team were told they would not be allowed to play wearing headscarves.

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In 2013, the Quebec Soccer Federation reversed its decision to controversially ban wearing turbans or related religious headwear on the pitch a few days after being hit with a suspension by the Canadian Soccer Association.

How Singh and Sky Sports changed English football

Singh, who refereed more than 150 matches across the divisions between 2004 and 2010, has a relationship with Sky Sports spanning almost a decade with work done on a variety of initiatives and stories around the inclusion of British South Asians in English football.

Latest PFA figures indicate the number of professional footballers from a South Asian background has fallen, with Kick It Out chair Sanjay Bhandari previously telling Sky Sports News the lack of representation from the community in the English game is "the single-largest statistical anomaly in English football".

At the beginning of the new year, Jarnail watched his youngest son Bhupinder Singh Gill make history as the first Sikh-Punjabi to take up the role of assistant referee for a Premier League game - after Sky Sports News exclusively broke the story in December.

But just a few days later, online platform @UB1UB2 shared a clip from a Spartan South Midlands League match in which Langford FC midfielder Charan Basra was shown a second yellow card for his reaction after an opposing player appeared to tug at his patka.

The referee appeared not to see the original incident, with Sky Sports' British South Asians in Football lead Dev Trehan taking the issue up directly with Singh.

Jarnail liaised directly with colleagues at the Referees' Association, the FA Refereeing Department and the FA Referees' Committee, offering insight on the significance and importance that Sikhs attach to religious head coverings like turbans and patkas.

Just over a fortnight after initiating contact with refereeing authorities about the matter, match officials at every level of the game across the country were issued with specific guidance relating to such incidents.

Match officials were told that a head covering such as a patka or a turban is considered a religious article of faith. Touching one without permission should be deemed an offensive action under Law 12 of the FA Handbook relating to fouls and misconduct.

The offence should be punishable by a mandatory red card if seen and should be treated as an S6 breach - using offensive, insulting and/or abusive language and or action(s).

The FA confirmed the guidance "applies to all religious head coverings."

Peter Elsworth, FA head of referee operations, said: "We are determined to stamp out all forms of offensive and discriminatory behaviour from our game, and we have confirmed to our network of match officials that they should send off any player that deliberately touches a religious head covering of another player in an inappropriate way.

"Football is played and enjoyed by many communities across the country, and we want to do everything we can to ensure they are protected and supported at all times."

Singh told Sky Sports News: "I'm very happy that we were able to contribute to educating and improving understanding about South Asians and Sikh communities in football.

"This is an excellent example of cooperation and collaboration from everyone involved, especially the chair of the FA Referees' Committee and the FA Referees' Department.

"It's a real pleasure to come together with Dev, Sky Sports, the Football Association and the refereeing family to help promote equality and inclusion for diverse ethnic communities in football."

Trehan told Sky Sports News: "Jarnail is a Sikh-Punjabi trailblazer and a British South Asians in Football icon. To work together with him on something like this and yield such a positive result is a moment to cherish and savour for everyone associated with the 'Beautiful Game'. I'm sure Langford FC midfielder Charan Basra, who is a fine role model himself, will also take great satisfaction from this outcome.

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Yan Dhanda says he is proud he took a stand for British South Asians in Football and hopes to see more players from the community breaking through into the professional game

"Credit must go to all of those involved in this process as well as @UB1UB2 and the Sikh Press Association for pushing this, and everybody across the Sky business who has supported our truly game-changing work around British South Asians in Football."

Singh: A tremendous day for English football

Apna England official supporters' group spokesperson Micky Singh told Sky Sports News: "This feels unprecedented and it offers a sense of freedom and preservation for Sikhs and every patka-wearing footballer that has ever been involved in the game.

"I can't explain what it feels like knowing that my grandson would now be afforded a level of protection and respect for his faith if he made it all the way through to the elite game.

"This is momentous for Sikhs, a game-changer for British South Asians, and a tremendous day for English football."

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Muslimah Sports Association chair Yashmin Harun BEM told Sky Sports News in 2021 that Muslim women may find it difficult to participate in sport despite lockdown easing because of the important family role they play during the Holy Month of Ramadan

Muslimah Sports Association chair and FA National Game Board member Yashmin Harun BEM told Sky Sports News: "This is a positive step in the right direction and it is pleasing to see the Football Association come together with key partners including Jarnail, Dev and Sky Sports and swiftly deliver this guidance.

"Naturally, I am especially pleased that this guidance also caters for women who wear the hijab and want to play football. This helps make football more inclusive and will hopefully encourage more women of all backgrounds to take an active part in the game."

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The first Sikh female in Parliamentary history, Preet Kaur Gill MP, told Sky Sports News it would be a proud moment for Sikhs when Bhupinder and Sunny Singh Gill officiate in the same Championship game

The country's first Sikh female Member of Parliament, Preet Kaur Gill, told Sky Sports News: "It's clear that there is still some way to go in terms of education and understanding around Sikh articles of faith.

"Respect for all people of all faiths and no faiths is really important on and off the pitch. It's important for the football authorities to address this, so that we don't see incidents like this going forward."

Britain's first turbaned Sikh Member of Parliament, Tan Dhesi, told Sky Sports News: "As a turbaned Sikh, whose young boys also love playing football, I'm extremely grateful to former referee Jarnail Singh, Dev Trehan, the Sky Sports team, @UB1UB2 and the Sikh Press Association for intervening in this sensitive, important matter.

"The issuing of guidance on religious head coverings will be especially appreciated by British Sikhs."

British South Asians in Football

For more stories, features and videos, visit our groundbreaking South Asians in Football page on skysports.com and stay tuned to Sky Sports News and our Sky Sports digital platforms.

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