Headscarves in women’s football spark new French secularism debate

After the burkini debate over the past few summers, it looks like France is about to usher in a new round of debate over Islamic attire, this time over whether female footballers should be allowed to wear the hijab during games.


At the center of the latest introspection is a legal challenge by a group of Muslim footballers seeking to overturn the French Football Federation’s ban on women wearing religious symbols in games, even in games organized by amateur clubs.

The “Hijabeuses” collective got a legal boost after the state’s legal counsel concluded on Monday at a hearing of the state’s Constitutional Council, which is considering the case, that the rule was unreasonable.

Interior Minister Gerald Dalmanin, an immigration hawk in President Emmanuel Macron’s government, said on Tuesday he was “very opposed” to the commission mandating hijabs on football pitches, echoing calls from other right-wing politicians. warning.

read moreMuslim female soccer players spar with French government over hijab ban in sport

“The Constitutional Council is an extremely sensible body. I sincerely hope that the republic will remain neutral on the playing field,” Dammanin told RTL radio.

The nine-member body responsible for constitutional matters is expected to make a final decision in mid-July.

Darmanin said the “Hijabeuses” wanted to deliver a “blow” to the republic.

“When you’re playing sports, you shouldn’t be wearing religious clothing … When you’re playing football, you don’t need to know the religion of the person in front of you,” he said.

The first rule of the FA rules, introduced in 2016, states that players must not wear “symbols or clothing that clearly express personal political, philosophical, religious or trade union views”.


The question goes to the heart of the French concept of secularism, which seeks to preserve the state’s neutrality in matters of religion while also guaranteeing citizens the right to freely practice their religion.

Eric Ciotti, the leader of the right-wing Republican Party, said on Tuesday that approving the hijab at football matches “would be a real step backwards for women’s rights and a disgraceful capitulation to Islamism”.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen tweeted: “Say no to hijab in sport. We will pass a law to ensure it is respected.”

Both Theotti and Le Pen see the hijab as a symbol of the Islamization of French society rather than a sign of personal religious piety or cultural identity.

Right-wing politicians often interpret France’s secularist law, known as “laicite,” as supporting a ban on religious symbols, especially the Islamic veil, in public places.

Last year, the city of Grenoble authorized the wearing of the “burkini” (a full-body swimsuit worn by Muslim women) in municipal swimming pools, sparking a legal battle that has drawn national attention.

The Constitutional Council ultimately ruled to uphold the ban on the clothing.

In the summer of 2016, right-wing mayors in southern France tried to ban the wearing of burkinis on Mediterranean beaches, sparking the first storm surrounding bathing suits.

The rules, introduced after a series of terrorist attacks in France, were eventually repealed as discriminatory.


The “Hijabeuses” and their supporters claim that football federation rules prohibit some Muslim women from playing the sport.

French law contains specific provisions prohibiting the wearing of “ostentatious” religious symbols in certain settings, such as public schools and civil servants.

In 2010, full face masks were banned.

Legal advisers to the state’s constitutional committee noted that football is “full of” religious symbols, including players crossing themselves as they enter the field.

The committee’s public rapporteur, Clemente Malvetti, said players were exempt from the “neutrality requirement”.

The Rapporteur’s recommendations are usually (but not always) adopted by the Council.

“Our fight is not political, it’s not religious. It’s just sport, and just sport,” Foune Diawara, the head of “Hijabeuses,” told reporters afterward. “There are women who are excluded from football every weekend because they wear the veil.”

In 2014, FIFA authorized players to wear headscarves during international matches.


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