London 2012 Olympics chief allows Sikhs to wear Kirpan

LONDON—Sikhs attending the London 2012 Olympics can carry the […] Kirpan, [a religious symbol,] but the blade must be less than three inches long.

Photograph: Chris Wattie/Reuters

Sikhs attending the London 2012 Olympics will be able to carry […] the Kirpan, [a religious symbol,] following reassurances from Lord Coe.

In a letter to the Sikh Federation, the former gold medal-winning athlete and chairman of the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games, wrote that there would be no ban on a kirpan with a maximum blade length of three inches (eight centimetres).

In Sikhism, the kirpan and kara (bangle) are two of the five articles of faith that baptised Sikhs must carry at all times.

Lord Coe said: “At Games-time, small symbolic ceremonial daggers (an Article of Faith with a maximum blade length of 3 inches) carried for religious reasons will be allowed.

“We have worked closely with the Sikh community and the Metropolitan police on our plans in this area, and published this statement on our website and I would appreciate your help in communicating this to your federation.

“The Sikh community has played a major role from the outset of the bid to host the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games here in London.”

The group, welcoming the letter, suggested its lobbying activity may have even helped London to triumph over Paris in the race to stage the event.

The Sikh Federation wrote to IOC members to discourage them from supporting the Paris bid because of the French ban on religious symbols in public places, “specifically targeting around 45 of the 115 voting IOC members who are from countries where religion is of paramount importance”.

Dabinderjit Singh, a spokesman for Sikh interests in the UK, said: “I think that’s what Seb was alluding to in his letter. We played that card quite heavily but didn’t publicise it at the time.”

He added that while there was a growing awareness about the kirpan as a religious item, there was still work to be done.

He cited the case of Sikh cricket fan Gurdev Singh, who was denied access to Lord’s during a test match last weekend between India and England because he was wearing a kirpan. He staged a protest outside the ground.

The MCC has since said there was “no intention to cause upset or distress” and that it is in discussion with a “prominent member of the Sikh community”, also an MCC Member, on how to handle such matters in the future.

Singh, from the Sikh Federation, said: “There is confusion about what the kirpan is and there will be a problem at the Olympics, in spite of the letter, because there are lots of venues. Are staff going to stand there with rulers, measuring blades?

“There is a lot more to do about raising awareness, it’s a post 9/11 thing. People will confuse visible, turban-wearing Sikhs, even in the UK, for not being Sikhs. Because of the kirpan, people immediately and naturally see it as a weapon.”

UK law permits the wearing of the [Kirpan] in public places for religious reasons. There have been incidents in recent years, however, where Sikhs claim they have been either refused entry to a venue because of their kirpan or told not to wear it.


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