Shut Up and Dribble: Bill 21’s Unseen Effect on Pro Sports in Montreal

Bill 21 Has Sent a Clear Message to Everyone Around The World and Athletes Are No Different

Some legendary international athletes have graced the Montreal sports scene. Bill 21 puts that in jeopardy. Graphic Joey Bruce

On June 17, 2019, the province of Quebec took a stance.

Over the years, different governments had flirted with different variations of this concept without ever pulling through.

Be it through losing an election or an appeal, laws openly discriminating based on religion have never become entrenched—but not for lack of trying.

Enter François Legault’s Coalition Avenir Québec government and Bill 21: La loi sur la laïcité de l’état.

Despite protests, public opinion being largely against it in areas it was most likely to affect, and a whole lot of appeals, the bill passed by a comfortable margin.

What the CAQ succeeded in doing was to send a message to not only prospective immigrants looking at the province as one of the few francophone regions in North America, but to its very own population.
It didn’t take long for this openly xenophobic piece of legislation to garner attention from media outside of Canada. After The New York Times picked up the story, Quebec’s implementation of Bill 21 drew international attention and criticism.

Canada, in general, has always had a reputation as being a country that is welcoming and open to diversity. Montreal’s multiculturalism alone has made it a more attractive option for immigration, and that can be shown through athletes’ decisions to settle here.

All-time world footballing greats like Italians Alessandro Nesta, Marco Di Vaio, and Didier Drogba, from the Ivory Coast, had enough star power to go to any city of their choosing. Yet, when making the move to Major League Soccer, Montreal is where they wound up.

The massive Italian and Ivorian communities here played a role in the players’ arrival and prominence in the city. These communities and their significance in Montreal helped all three—even Drogba, who only stayed for a year and a half—become cherished parts of both soccer and popular culture in Montreal.

What Bill 21’s passing signifies is a legislative change in that respect. Montreal and Quebec often find themselves on the wrong side of racist, xenophobic, and downright discriminatory issues. But this bill’s passing was something else entirely.

The provincial government has sent a message, and that message is a massive xenophobic fuck you to anyone who is neither white nor Christian.

Athletes definitely take into account the culture of the city they’re moving to when looking at MLS teams.

While the league’s profile is definitely on the rise, it is also a favourable destination for world-class players looking to play out the ends of their careers.

There are clearly bigger fish to fry and more pressing ramifications to Bill 21, but the fact that athletes might be deterred from coming due to the government being more open than ever about its xenophobia is a telling sign of how Quebec’s international image has been affected since that fateful day in June.