Responding to the decision today from the Conseil d’État, which ruled that the French Football Federation (FFF) does not need to change its discriminatory policy that effectively prohibits Muslim women players who wear a headscarf from participating in competitive football matches, Anna Blus, Amnesty International’s Researcher – Women’s Rights in Europe, said:
“The deeply disappointing decision today from the Conseil d’État entrenches both racism and gender discrimination in French football. The Football Federation’s ban on religious clothing not only prevents Muslim women footballers who wear headscarves from playing in competitive matches, it also violates their rights to freedom of expression, association, and religion.”
“Today’s decision ignores the Public Rapporteur’s recommendation to end this discriminatory ban and seriously undermines efforts to make women’s sports more inclusive. It means that Muslim women football players in France will continue to experience differential treatment to other players, in clear breach of several of the country’s international human rights obligations.”
Founé Diawara, co-President of the Hijabeuses collective, which brought the case against the FFF before the highest administrative court, said: “Today’s decision is a missed opportunity to right a long-standing wrong and let us play, simply. Our fight is not political or religious but centred on our human right to participate in sports. Many women are excluded from football fields in France every weekend solely because they wear a veil.”
Article 1 of the French Football Federation’s rules, introduced in 2016, prohibits players from wearing “symbols or clothing obviously displaying one’s political, philosophical, religious or trade union views” during competitions. This ban remains in place even though FIFA overturned its own ban on headwear in football in 2014.
A group of Senators have repeatedly tried to expand this policy into a national law that applies to all sports. Parliamentary debates on these proposals have seen politicians resort to inflammatory rhetoric and offensive stereotyping that stigmatizes Muslim women and often conditions their participation in community sports on unnecessary and disproportionate limitations on their rights to freedom of expression, thought, conscience and religion.
Under international law, state neutrality and secularism are not legitimate reasons for imposing restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and religion or belief, including through general bans on religious and cultural symbols. Any restrictions must be justified by demonstrable facts, not presumptions, speculation or prejudice.
Muslim headscarves and face coverings have long been instrumentalized and stereotyped to demonize Muslim women and homogenize the different significance they may represent to those who wear them or would wish to wear them but fear to do so or are legally prevented from doing so in public. The latest decision of Conseil d’État is yet another example of France enforcing negative stereotypical assumptions and tropes about Muslim communities and gender roles.