The Right to wear the Hijab in French Sport Arenas

Loura Al Alanezi is a Politics (BA) student. She is from Kuwait, and she reports on the topics of poverty, mobility, security and conflict. Her hobbies include reading books and painting.

Laïcité, a principle considered to have utmost importance in France, is often brought up within debates of banning religious symbols. Laïcité views religion as something that should be confined to the private sphere and driven out of the public sphere. It played a role in banning the hijab at schools, the niqab, and the burqa in public areas including the streets. Meanwhile, strengthening and protecting Laïcité has been used as justification for the ban of these religious garments and symbols.

9/11 contributed to a renewed fear regarding security in France. This fear produced the 2004 veil law that banned all religious symbols in state schools. In the midst of terrorist attacks and fear of further occurences, there had been debates about controlling the Muslim population. By limiting religious freedom in this way, the French government led many Muslims in France to feel like they either had to choose France or religion.

There is a recurring question that circulates in the West-  the right to wear the hijab; these debates are fuelled by years of colonial attitudes and the Western superiority complex. When colonising Algeria, France had also attempted to assimilate Algerian society by pressuring women to remove the veil. The hijab is supposed to cover hair, the neck, and ears. Currently, hijabs are not allowed in schools and government buildings. The niqab is used to cover the face with the exception of the eyes. It is banned in public areas, including the streets. The French Senate had also passed a law to ban the hijab in sports matches, and the French Football Federation banned women who wore hijabs entrance into sports matches. Proponents of the ban justify them as legitimate safety concerns. However, the masking of faces during the covid pandemic would then have also posed potential threats following this line of argument, which renders their justification invalid.

The suggestion to ban the hijab was introduced to the French Senate by a right-wing political party, Les Republicans; the reasoning by the political party was that hijabs risked athletes’ safety. The law was adopted on January 19 by a 160-143 vote within the French Senate. This led many Muslim athletes from outside of France to feel conflicted about participating. Likewise, French athletes who wear the hijab are also in a dilemma of choosing between their passion and their religious beliefs. Moreover, there is a concern about the possibility of the ban being applied in the Olympics; this would ultimately limit the participation of  athletes. The Olympics’ main purpose is to gather the best athletes in the world to compete in various sports. If the hijab ban was to be placed, it would challenge the goals of inclusion and purpose of the Olympics. 

Bibliography

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[Feature image taken from TIME.]

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