Sailing in sport: 5 minutes to understand the ban debate

Like a deja vu. While the subject was raised and decided during the controversial bill on separatism and radical Islam last year, the issue of wearing the Islamic veil in sport made a resounding return to the National Assembly. In a full review of a bill to democratize sport in France, senators have passed an amendment extending the hijab ban – already in place in football – to all federations.

A collective of players, the Hijabeuses, lead the pendulum, supported by many personalities. Nearly fifty international athletes (active or retired) are calling this Wednesday in a forum published by Liberation to oppose this ban. Among the signatories: Lilian Thuram, Éric Cantona, Jessica Houara, Vikash Dhorasoo…

Who are the Hijabeuses?

This group of sportswomen was founded in May 2020 to help veiled girls evolve in competition. It is supervised by the Alliance Citoyenne association. “We just want to play football, we are not pro-hijab activists, just football fans, the rest is a bit beyond us,” said co-chairman Founé Diawara. The Hijabeuses attack Article 1 of the Rules of the French Football Federation (FFF) which states that “any wearing of a placard or outfit purporting to show a political, philosophical, religious or trade union affiliation” is prohibited.

VIDEO. The “Hijabeuses” play soccer for the Senate

Why is the FFF against wearing the veil?

While the world organization FIFA has allowed players to play with their veil in international competition since 2012, the FFF is an exception in the football landscape. It is one of the few federations to enforce this ban in Europe. The reason ? Respect for “constitutional and legislative principles of secularism that prevail in our country and appear in its statutes,” according to a 2012 press release.

What does the law say?

However, when French law imposes neutrality on employees and agents working for delegated federations of a public service, it is more vague for its users. According to Maître Michel Pautot, doctor of law and lawyer at the Marseille Bar, “no norm of national law restricts freedom of religion or belief within associative activities”. There are limits, for example, if an association actively perceives proselytizing, if the veil conflicts with hygiene and safety, etc. “The ban of the FFF is not justified by the proper functioning of the public service, it is justified by an ideological principle of sporting public order and this goes beyond the law. The FFF can regulate its matches, but cannot issue a neutrality principle that generally applies to its users,” argues Marion Ogier, who defends the Hijabeuses.

Why do parliamentarians adopt the topic?

According to the lawyer, it was the appeal she filed with the Council of State in November 2021 that made the senators move. “Parliament understood that there was a risk that this ban would be lifted,” she emphasizes. The senators had already tried unsuccessfully for the first time to ban the veil in competition during discussions last summer about the bill against separatism and radical Islam.

On January 19, against the advice of the government, they passed an amendment proposed by the LR group that prohibits the “wearing of conspicuous religious symbols” during “sporting events and sports competitions organized by sports federations” under this time of the bill aimed at democratizing sport in France. According to them, LR parliamentarians are attacking the “legal vacuum” around this question, says senator LR Michel Savin, who is at the forefront of this battle.

On the part of the Ministry of Sport, we deplore the “instrumentalization” of the sports law in debate. “At the first reading in March 2021, this topic of neutrality was never addressed by parliamentarians. It comes in a campaign context when it was discussed and decided by Parliament itself six months ago.

If Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu has not taken a clear stance on the subject, her fellow deputy for gender equality, Elisabeth Moreno, has decided. “The law says that these young girls can wear the veil and play football. Nowadays it is not forbidden to wear the veil on the football fields. I want us to respect the law,” she told LCI on Wednesday. The debate will be decided by the deputies themselves after a return to the Senate on Feb. 16.