French Senate votes to ban hijab at sports events

French lawmakers have voted in favour of an amendment that bans the wearing of the hijab at sporting events and competitions organised by the country in order to maintain “neutrality” in sports.

The amendment was proposed at the Senate, the upper house of the French Parliament, by the right-wing group Les Republicains and was adopted with 160 votes in favour and 143 against it.

The French government opposed the amendment but it was passed nevertheless.

The lawmakers argued that the hijab puts the safety of players wearing it at risk. The amendment read: “Today there is legal uncertainty about the wearing of religious symbols and it is necessary for the state to clearly define the rules. If the wearing of the veil is not explicitly forbidden we could see the emergence of community sports clubs promoting certain religious signs.”

It is, however, not confirmed whether it will be enforced during the 2024 Paris Olympics. There was no immediate statement from the Olympic organising committee on the amendment.

The amendment drew sharp criticism from different quarters. Saima Mohsin, a TV presenter commenting on the ban, tweeted: “Liberté? Or exclusion & discrimination? Senators in #France voted in favour of #HijabBan in #sports. The amendment was proposed by right-wing Les Republicains & opposed by the French government. #Islamophobia is not the answer.”

The French government is already under severe criticism for the amendment of the controversial “separatism bill” which bans girls under the age of 18 from wearing the hijab in public.

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The Football Federation of France has already banned hijabi women from participating in official matches.

Manal Rostom, a hijab-wearing Nike and My Protein Middle East ambassador, asked her followers to “continue to play sports in whatever gear she feels most comfortable in.”

She wrote: “The French Senate has voted to ban HIJAB from sports competitions. According to French politicians the motive is to achieve ‘religious neutrality.’ I apologize for the use of profanity but THIS IS BULL****. Please go educate yourself about what the hijab stands for and how it’s a compulsory form of worship IN THE HOLY QURAN for all Muslim Women. I stand in solidarity with all my French sisters affected by this. I invite all girls (Muslims and non-Muslims) to campaign against this defending the right of every woman to exercise her faith whichever way she wishes but above all, continue to play sports in whatever gear she feels most comfortable in AND aligned with her faith.”

And Maelle Nizan, vice president of the National Association of Students in Sciences and Techniques of Physical and Sporting Activities, said: “Laicite (secularism) guarantees believers and non-believers the same right to freedom of expression of their beliefs. This measure goes against secularism.”

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