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Muslim women footballers talk to French government about banning hijab in sport

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A day after police banned a protest by ‘Hijabeuses’, footballers fighting for the right to wear the religious headscarf in competition, the ban was overturned by a court. The victories are starting to pile up for the militant group: the French Minister for Equality has also expressed her support for them. The case becomes a hot topic in French politics, just two months before the presidential elections.

Around 6 p.m. Wednesday evening, a group of young women, some wearing hijabs, gathered on the grassy esplanade of Les Invalides in Paris, armed with placards painted with slogans like “Football for all” and “Let’s play”.

These women are part of the militant group ‘Les Hijabeuses’, a collective of female soccer players fighting for the right to wear the hijab during official matches, which is banned in France. The rules of the French Football Federation currently prohibit players participating in competitive matches from wearing “ostentatious” religious symbols such as the Muslim headscarf or the Jewish yarmulke.

The young footballers began kicking a ball around in the dark, in front of the imposing illuminated dome of Les Invalides, their game lit by smartphone screens and torches. An hour earlier, they had been informed that an administrative court in Paris had overturned the ban on a demonstration they had planned for the same afternoon at 4.30 p.m. They decided to go to where they had originally planned to protest anyway. The location was significant: this expanse of lawn is a few meters from the lower house of the French National Assembly, where that morning lawmakers had heatedly debated, for six hours, an amendment that would ban clothing or religious symbols in sporting events.

political storm

This is a subject that has sparked lively debate in both chambers of the French parliament. The amendment was originally tabled by the right-wing Les Républicains party, and it was passed on January 19 by the upper house of the Senate with 160 votes to 143.

During Wednesday’s debate in the National Assembly, Les Républicains MP Éric Ciotti, an adviser to the party’s presidential candidate Valérie Pécresse, lambasted the government for what he sees as its softness in the face of rampant Islamism in society. French. “Islamism is spreading in prayer rooms, mosques, homes and now in sports clubs!” he said.

Régis Juanico, deputy of the center left Socialist Party, replied that sport is “a vector of integration, of republican fraternity, and not of hatred or division”. Communist Party politician Marie-George Buffet reminded the Assembly that “secularism and neutrality are at the heart of our sports culture”.

Speaking to LCI radio on Thursday, France’s Minister for Gender Equality, Elisabeth Moreno, said: “The law states that these young women can wear a headscarf and play football. Today, on football fields, the headscarf is not prohibited. I want the law to be respected. .” She later added, in comments to the AFP news agency, that “women should be allowed to dress however they want”.

His comments came following the court’s decision to overturn the ban on protesting Hijabeuses. The court declared that the ban “constituted a serious and manifestly illegal infringement of the fundamental freedom of the right to demonstrate” and ordered the police commissioner to pay a fine of €1,000, which would go to the militant collective and the association. defense of human rights. human rights league (League of Human Rights).

The FFF in the crosshairs

This last victory did not make the collective forget its general objective: to free itself from article 1 of the regulations of the French Football Federation (FFF) which prohibits wearing anything that could identify a player as having any affiliation. with a “political, philosophical, religious or union group” entity. This is the rule that the senators want to extend to other federations in the sports world.

“Our goal is to fight against the exclusion and prohibition of women who wear the headscarf in sports competitions. We should not have to choose between wearing the headscarf and playing sports these days. We just have to review the law and read what he says about freedom of belief and secularism to know that the law is on our side,” Inès, the general secretary of Hijabeuses, told FRANCE 24.

“What we are asking today is that the FFF change its rules and allow every woman to express herself, to enjoy her passion and to participate in competitions without having the heart in her mouth and the stress of wondering all the time if she’s going to be able to play that day or not,” she added.

Support in the world of sport

The Hijabeuses collective started in 2020. It organizes matches, sit-ins and social media campaigns to put public pressure on the FFF. Other football federations, including FIFA, do not ban female players who wear the hijab.

The pressure is certainly mounting. The French newspaper Liberation published an open letter on Wednesday under the title “Let women wearing the hijab play!” It has been signed by dozens of sports personalities, including Eric Cantona, Candice Prévost and Asisat Oshoala.

The debate is ongoing, with the French Senate disagreeing with the National Assembly. The amendment will go through the Senate again on February 16 before returning to the Assembly for possible adoption on February 24.

This article has been adapted from the original in French.