France moves closer to banning headscarves in sport competitions

Senate voted to amend proposed law, stating wearing 'of conspicuous religious symbols is prohibited'

A woman wearing a hijab walks at Trocadero square near the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, May 2, 2021. Picture taken on May 2, 2021. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes
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The French Senate has voted in favour of banning the wearing of headscarves in sport competitions, arguing that neutrality is a requirement on the field of play.

The French upper legislative house voted late on Tuesday in favour of amending a proposed law stipulating that the wearing “of conspicuous religious symbols is prohibited” to take part in events and competitions organised by sport federations.

In their text, senators said explicitly that the amendment aims to ban “the wearing of the veil in sport competitions".

They added that headscarves can put the safety of athletes at risk when they wear it during practices or matches.

The amendment proposed by right-wing group Les Republicains and opposed by the French government was adopted with 160 votes in favour and 143 against.

A commission composed of members from the Senate and the lower house will now gather to find a compromise on the text before it is published, meaning the amendment can still be defeated.

It is unclear whether the ban would be enacted for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

The Olympic organising committee did not immediately answer a request for comment.

The vote came a year after politicians in the French Parliament’s lower house approved a bill to strengthen oversight of mosques, schools and sport clubs in a bid to safeguard France from extremists and to promote respect for French values — one of President Emmanuel Macron’s major projects.

With France bloodied by terror attacks, few disagree that radicalisation is a danger. But critics also see the law as a political ploy to lure the right wing to Mr Macron’s centrist party before this year’s presidential election.

France's Muslim women protest hijab ban with #HandsOffMyHijab

France's Muslim women protest hijab ban with #HandsOffMyHijab

In the amendment, senators said all citizens are free to exercise their religion, but that everyone should refrain from flaunting their differences.

“Today, there is legal uncertainty about the wearing of religious symbols, and it is necessary for the state to clearly define the rules,” the amendment read.

“If the wearing of the veil is not explicitly forbidden, we could see the emergence of community sport clubs promoting certain religious signs.”

The French football federation already bans women from wearing headscarves in official matches, as well as at competitions it organises.

A collective of headscarf-wearing football players called “Les Hijabeuses”, related to the word hijab, has been campaigning against that ban.

The group says all Muslim women should have the right to play their favourite sport at competitive level while wearing a headscarf if they want to.

It has launched legal action at the Council of State, France’s highest administrative jurisdiction, to overturn the federation ban.

Updated: January 19, 2022, 10:58 PM