French women's football collective scores in fight against veil ban

A women's football collective in France seeking to overthrow a ban on players wearing hijab during matches scored a crucial legal goal on Monday in their judicial fight to force a rule change.

Under its current rules, the French Football Federation forbids all players, even amateurs, from wearing "ostentatious" religious symbols in the name of French secularism, preventing players from wearing Muslim headscarves or the Jewish kippa. 

A Muslim women's collective known as "the Hijabeuses" launched a legal challenge to the rules in November 2021, claiming they were discriminatory and infringed their right to practice their religion freely. 

The case reached the French constitutional council on Monday where the public rapporteur, whose views are generally followed by the nine-member council, said he was against the federation's rules and recommended a rule change. 

Clement Malverti said there was no "neutrality requirement" for football players who should not be subjected to the same rules as public officials such as teachers or civil servants who are banned from displaying their religious convictions.

Football was "riddled with" religious symbols, he said, including a cross on the shirts of the professional Auxerre team, players making the sign of the cross as they enter the pitch, or having tattoos featuring religious symbols.

A veil ban could be considered for national players who represented the nation and were undertaking a "public service mission", he added. 

The council is set to hand down a decision in three weeks' time.

A lawyer for the Hijabeuses, Marion Ogier, said it was "too early to cry victory", but said that the conclusions of the public rapporteur "are in our favour". 

"Our combat is not political, not religious. It is about sport and only sport," Foune Diawara, head of the Hijabeuses, told reporters. "There are women who are excluded from football pitches every weekend because they wear the veil."

France's laws on secularism guarantee religious freedom to all citizens, and contain no provisions on banning the wearing of religious symbols in public spaces, with the exception of full-face coverings which were outlawed in 2010.

Many right-wing politicians in France want to widen restrictions on the headscarf, seeing it as a political statement in support of Islamism and an affront to French values. 

In last year's presidential election, far-right leader Marine Le Pen proposed a ban on the headscarf in all public places, which experts said would almost certainly have been stuck down as unconstitutional had she been elected. 

The French Senate, which is dominated by the right-wing Republicans party, also tried to introduce a law in January last year that would have banned the wearing of obvious religious symbols in all competitive sports. It was rejected in the lower house by President Emmanuel Macron's centrist ruling party.    (AFP