Wellington: New Zealand Prime Minister John Key believes the International Cricket Council has it wrong in barring Sikh fans from wearing kirpans at World Cup matches.
Mr Key has also signalled that the Government could change current Civil Aviation Authority rules to allow kirpans to be taken on flights.
Seven Sikh cricket fans were barred from entering Eden Park to watch India play Zimbabwe in a Cricket World Cup match on Saturday because they were wearing kirpans.
The kirpan is a ceremonial sword carried by Sikhs for religious purposes, but is considered by the ICC to be a weapon.
Mr Key said this afternoon that the ICC rightly set the rules for what could be brought into New Zealand cricket venues.
“It’s their tournament, not ours. So we can’t dictate that to them.”
However, in recent weeks he had met with members of the Sikh community and was sympathetic to their position.
“My understanding of the kirpan is it is for the most part very small, it’s a blunt instrument.
“And, actually, if you want to make the case that someone could cause harm with that, they’re probably much more likely to be able to cause harm with anything else you can get at the grounds, including a wine bottle or something else.”
Daljit Singh, chairman of the Supreme Sikh Council, said many in the Sikh community were unhappy with the ICC’s decision and the council was considering taking legal action.
“This decision has huge implication because we have about 500 in our community who already bought tickets for the semifinals, and are now worried that they cannot get in,” Mr Singh said.
“We have been told that under NZ law it is legal to carry a kirpan, but this ban is being imposed by the ICC which we feel should follow the law of the land.”
It is legal to wear a kirpan in New Zealand, but they cannot be taken on to flights.
Mr Key said he wanted the Government to look at making an exemption in aviation rules for the kirpan.
“Some countries have legislated for that, I think the UK and Australia. We might look at it, I am sympathetic to the view.”
Karamjit Singh, 40, said last Saturday was the first time he had been stopped from entering a game in his 16 years of watching cricket in New Zealand.
“The kirpan is one of the pillars of our Sikh faith, and I have been to all games in the past with no issue,” he said.
Daljit Singh Sekhon, 25, said he started wearing the kirpan when he got baptised and it was like “part of the body”.
“I don’t ever remove it and even when I shower I tie it to my head … to be asked to remove the kirpan is insulting, not just to me but to all Sikhs,” he said.
Race Relations Commissioner Susan Devoy said the tournament organisers had offered to take care of kirpans while their owners were at the game.
“This is a similar policy to the one used by many airlines,” she said. “We need to keep talking with Sikh Kiwis. Balancing rights isn’t easy.”
Source: NZ Herald