Paris 2024 Olympics: French Athletes Banned From Wearing Hijab

This decision directly opposes the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which authorises wearing headscarves during competitions.

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This decision directly opposes the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which authorises wearing headscarves during competitions.

As Paris prepares to host the Olympic Games in 2024, France has decided to ban the wearing of Islamic veils for its athletes during the Paris Olympic Games, which will be held from 26 July to 11 August 2024.

French Sports Minister Amélie Oudéa-Castéra explained on 24 September in the French television programme “Dimanche en politique” the government’s attachment “to a regime of strict secularism”, strictly applied in the field of sport.

What does it mean? This means the prohibition of any form of proselytism, the absolute neutrality of the public service, and the representatives of our delegations, in our French teams, will not wear the veil.

However, in the name of French secularism, which prohibits proselytism and the ostentatious display of religious symbols, this decision opposes the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which authorises wearing headscarves during competitions.

The IOC, which governs these rules of participation, is on a logic which consists of understanding the wearing of the veil not as a religious factor, but as a “cultural factor”, commented Amélie Oudéa-Castéra, explaining that the body “is based on the provisions of international federations which are not all the same in this area” and that there will therefore be “heterogeneity between sports”.

While the Council of State had indeed decided last June to maintain the ban on the Muslim veil in competitions organised by the French Football Federation (FFF), international bodies do not necessarily share these positions. Indeed, FIFA has allowed players to wear a hijab on the pitch since 2014. This summer, during the Women’s World Cup in New Zealand and Australia, Moroccan defender Nouhaila Benzina became the first veiled player in the history of FIFA.

In response, the UN reiterated on Tuesday its opposition in principle to imposing on women what they must wear or not, reacting to the ban on French athletes from wearing the Islamic veil at the Olympic Games in France in the name of secularism.

During the regular UN press briefing in Geneva, OHCHR spokesperson Marta Hurtado said, “In general, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights believes that no one should dictate to a woman what she should or should not wear.”

Hurtado also recalled that the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women requires all parties – including France – to take “all appropriate measures necessary to modify any social or cultural model based on the idea of ​​inferiority or superiority of one or the other gender.”

Marta Hurtado also stressed that these discriminatory practices can have harmful consequences, which is why “according to international human rights standards, restrictions on the expression of religions or beliefs, such as the choice of clothing, are only acceptable in particular circumstances that proportionally and necessary address legitimate concerns of public safety, public order, public health or morality.”

The wearing of the veil has spread internationally in many sports, such as tennis, rugby, handball, and basketball. In France, positions vary depending on the federations.

It is, for example, prohibited by the French Basketball Federation (FFBB), but authorised by the French Rugby Federation only “if it does not constitute a danger for the person wearing it or the other players”. In handball, the hijab is authorised, provided it is sporty. Players can wear the headscarf without restriction in other federations, as in tennis.

These statements have been the subject of much criticism in France and abroad because they conflict with the demands of several Muslim players worldwide for freedom of dress when practising various sports.

Experts believe this decision could have a negative impact on Muslim youth in France, particularly on a psychological and social level, because this is a generation attached to its religious values and more attracted than previous generations by Islamic clothing such as the hijab and abaya.

In January 2023, French basketball player Salimata Sylla was denied access to the field because of her headgear, although she played basketball for ten years. After being barred from participating in official matches, Salimata created “Ball Her”, her own women’s basketball league.

In an interview with The Muslim Vibe, Salimata said, “I think this decision highlights a more significant underlying problem. Women wearing hijabs are excluded long before they reach national competitions.” 

She added, “Before playing in the French championship, you must go through several levels, but they do not allow you to play and reach the French championships while wearing the hijab.”

The French government continues to be singled out by women’s rights defenders for its attacks on the religious freedom of Muslim women. The ban on the abaya at school had recently caused a lot of ink to flow at the start of the school year, while the school system in France is afflicted with many much more urgent problems, including harassment and lack of teachers.

France’s crackdown on Muslim attire

For decades, France has been called out for its anti-Islam laws, stirring controversy among the Muslim community in France and worldwide. In 2004, the country was the first to ban headscarves in schools, while in 2010, it banned full-face veils in public places. 

Last August, the French government said it banned abayas, a long robe-like garment often worn by Muslim women, in state schools, resulting in dozens of schoolgirls being reminded of the rules or sent home in view of the larger policy of secularism. 

When Yasmine, 14, started school last September, her school in Paris took issue with how she dressed at the gates. Her outfit included beige pants and an off-white tunic. “The headteacher asked her if she knew what the word secularism meant and explained that her outfit went against this term,” says her mother.

In other cases reported by the French press or social networks, young girls were sent home for wearing dresses or sweaters, according to Mediapart. For many people, it needs to be clarified what is actually prohibited. They believe that these new rules are meant to stigmatise more Muslims.

Many denounce a clothing policy like in Iran, which has been put in place in certain establishments. In many cases, it is not just abayas that are prohibited. According to an investigation by the French newspaper Médiapart, students presumed to be Muslim were refused entry because they wore other clothing deemed “too covering” or “too loose”.

However, education Minister Gabriel Attal justified the decision: “When you walk into a classroom, you shouldn’t be able to identify the pupils’ religion just by looking at them.”

Although the move was met with critics and some mockery, France’s highest administrative court, the State Council, has rejected a bid to overturn the abaya ban.

By condemning the ban, French opposition parties accused the government of being “obsessed” with Muslims and fueling the rise of right-wing extremism.