France moves closer to banning veils in sports competitions

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

An ad from the Council of Europe hijab campaign, which has been stopped. Screen grab

(AP) — The French Senate has voted in favor of banning the wearing of headscarves in sports competitions, arguing that neutrality is a requirement on the field of play.

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

In their text, senators clearly said that the amendment aims at banning “the wearing of the veil in sports competitions.” They added that headscarves can put at risk the safety of athletes wearing it when they practice their discipline.

The amendment proposed by right-wing group Les Republicains and opposed by the French government was adopted with 160 votes in favor, and 143 against. A commission composed of members from the Senate and the lower house should now gather to find a compromise on the text before it is published, meaning the amendment can still be erased.

It is unclear whether the ban would be implemented for the 2024 Paris Olympics. The Olympic organizing committee did not immediately answer a request for comment.

The vote came a year after lawmakers in the French parliament’s lower house approved a bill to strengthen oversight of mosques, schools and sports clubs in a bid to safeguard France from radical Islamists and to promote respect for French values — one of President Emmanuel Macron’s landmark projects.

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

In the amendment, senators said all citizens are free to exercise their religion, but insisted that everyone should refrain from putting forward 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 voted by senators read. “If the wearing of the veil is not explicitly forbidden, we could see the emergence of community sports clubs promoting certain religious signs.”

The French soccer federation already bans women from wearing headscarves in official matches, as well as at competitions it organizes. A collective of headscarf-wearing soccer players called “Les Hijabeuses,” in relation to the word hijab referring to the headscarf, has been campaigning against that ban.

The group says all Muslim women should have the right to play their favorite 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.

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