France’s top administrative court on Thursday upheld a ban on female footballers wearing the hijab, the Islamic hijab, after politicians seized on the issue, claiming that secularism was at risk.
“Sports federations are tasked with ensuring the good functioning of public services … can claim the neutrality of their athletes in competitions and sporting events, in order to guarantee the smooth conduct of competitions and any conflicts or confrontations,” the Constitutional Council said in a statement. statement.
It found the French Football Federation’s (FFF) ban on “any symbol or clothing clearly indicating political, philosophical, religious or trade union affiliation” during matches to be “appropriate and proportionate”.
A group of Muslim female soccer players known as the “Hijabeuses” launched a campaign against the FFF regulations.
The judges find themselves under political pressure ahead of their ruling as mainstream parties look to fend off the far right, which is high in opinion polls.
Secularism is a sensitive topic in France, where its defenders see it as a way to guarantee the country’s religious neutrality, while its critics see it as a dog whistle against racial and religious minorities, especially Muslims.
The “Hijabeuses” endorsement sparked a wave of political condemnation on Monday when the state’s legal counsel concluded the rule was unreasonable.
“I sincerely hope that the republic (judges) will be neutral on the playing field,” Interior Minister Gerald Dalmanin, a law and order hardliner, said Tuesday.
Dalmanin added that the “hijabs” 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.
Other voices from the conservative Republican Party and the far-right National Rally also weighed in.
Far-right leader Marine Le Pen tweeted: “Say no to hijab in sport. We will pass a law to ensure it is respected.”
Republican leader Eric Ciotti, whose party holds only 62 seats in France’s 577-seat parliament, would introduce a bill on the topic if courts allowed the hijab.
Sports Minister Amelie Udia-Castella also suggested that the Macron government could legislate, saying “we do not exclude any possibility” and “we can see the need for clarification”.
The Constitutional Council hit back on Wednesday, calling it an “attack on the executive branch, especially the legal counsel”.
The agency added that challenging the court’s operations was “an attack on an institution that is vital to democracy” and said legal action could be taken in cases of “insult, defamation, incitement to hatred or threats”.