August 06, 2008: BEIJING – Some Canadians might not agree with the notion of altering or adding to the national team marching uniform for an Olympic opening ceremonies. Yet after listening to Canadian field hockey player Ravi Kahlon’s eloquent explanation, you at least understand the reasoning why he and three fellow Indo-Canadian players will wear turbans when marching into the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Games on Friday.
The four players – Victoria’s Kahlon, Bindi Kullar of North Delta, Gabbar Singh of Surrey and Ranjeev Deol of Mississauga, Ont. – don’t wear turbans in everyday life and don’t ever intend to. So why now, on this mammoth stage, with the world watching?
“I want to challenge the identity issue,” said Kahlon, who admitted the other three players, and assistant coach and former Canadian Olympian Nicki Sandhu, were reluctant when he first broached the idea with them.
Ravi Kahlon (right) shows seven-year-old Caleb Wallden the ins and outs of field hockey during a youth camp in Victoria last month.
“I want to show that you can wear a turban and still be Canadian,” he added.
The reaction of other teammates has been mixed, admitted Kahlon, but most are supportive.
“When some of them first heard about this, a few said ‘This is the Canadian team, not the Indian team,’ ” said Kahlon.
Exactly, noted Kahlon. That is precisely the point he wants to make. A turban is a Sikh religious symbol and in no way an Indian national symbol. Kahlon said as a Canadian he would never wear any symbol of Indian nationhood during the Olympics or at any international competition.
“This is no different than wearing a cross on your chest or a Jewish yarmulke during the opening ceremonies, which nobody would have any problem with,” said Kahlon, an RBC mortgage specialist, and outstanding forward appearing in his second Olympic Games.
“We’re a country of immigrants and this is a celebration of Canada and the fact that in our country, you can be anything you want to be. I think it’s great that Italian-Canadians gather at shops along Commercial Drive (in Vancouver) and in Toronto to cheer on the Italian national soccer team. Nobody bats an eye about that. Nobody. They mean no offence. And we also mean no offence.”
The family backgrounds of the two other Indo-Canadian players on Team Canada, Wayne Fernandes and Ken Pereira as well as head coach Louis Mendonca, are Goan and not Sikh, so they won’t be wearing turbans in the opening ceremonies.
Kahlon was born and raised in Victoria but said he is cognizant of the immigrant experience and it’s that part of Canada he has chosen to celebrate when marching into the massive 91,000-seat Bird’s Nest Stadium Friday behind Canadian flag bearer and kayaker Adam van Koeverden, of Oakville, Ont.
“My dad had to cut his beard and lose his turban to get a job when he came to Canada (in 1970),” said Kahlon. “Now we can choose to wear a turban or not and it doesn’t affect anybody making a living. Now we can celebrate that evolution of our country. During the opening ceremonies, I want people to think about Canadians coming in all kinds of packages, and yet we’re all still Canadians.”
Team Canada captain, Rob Short of Victoria, is supportive and any small grumbling there may on the team will have to go through him. Short and the Kahlons go back a long way. There is a well-dented garage door in the Gordon Head area of suburban Victoria that tells the tale of a journey to the Beijing Games. That’s where brothers Rob and Pete Short, along with Kahlon, played their no-holds barred road hockey games in front of the Kahlon family home.
“The Sikh community in B.C. has been very good to us – it raised $15,000 in one weekend to help in our preparations for Beijing – and as captain, I have no problem with this (turbans in the opening ceremonies),” said Short.
“We all bring something of our backgrounds to our national team and as Canadians at the Olympics. This is a part of who Ravi, Bindi, Ranjeev and Gabbar are. My parents are English and that’s why I came to play field hockey and not ice hockey.”
Pete Short even takes it one step further.
“Pete asked if he could wear a turban, too, during the opening ceremonies,” chuckled Kahlon.
“I said maybe when we get back to Canada and have our post-Games party.”
And you don’t even have to ask the colour of the opening ceremonies turbans.
“Canadian red, of course,” said Kahlon.