The announcement by France’s sports minister of a ban on headscarves for French athletes at the 2024 Paris Olympic Games has triggered a strong reaction on social media. Many individuals have denounced it as Islamophobic, while others have applauded the decision.
Speaking during the ‘Sunday In Politics’ show on France 3 TV, French sports minister Amelie Oudea-Castera said that no member of the French delegation would be allowed to wear the hijab or headscarf and expressed her support for “strict secularism,” according to multiple media reports.
“We agree with the recent judiciary system decision which the Prime Minister also expressed clearly, supporting strict secularism in sport. This means the prohibition of any kind of preaching and public sector neutrality. This means that members of our delegation, in our sports teams, will not wear the veil,” Oudea-Castera was quoted as saying.
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The ban comes amid a series of regulations in France prohibiting any religious garments in public institutions including government offices, schools and universities as part of the country’s strict ideology of laïcité or state-enforced secularism.
The sports minister’s statement triggered a heated debate on social media, with some users condemning the ban as Islamophobic while others hailed it for upholding secularism.
“This country has a problem with Islam, I say it loud and clear and everyone – without exception – knows it,” a user who identified as Mehdi wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Another user called Hassen Hammou questioned the decision expressing that it would make sports inaccessible for many athletes, largely Muslim women.
“Democratizing sport means making it accessible to everyone,” he posted on X.
Supporters of the ban said that the decision endorses French ideals of secularism and athletes much adhere to its rules.
“The specificity of French secularism is a modernity that Anglo-Saxon countries do not have. What is exclusive is to distinguish oneself, to separate oneself from others, with an obscurantist religious outfit,” a user who identified as Erik Verhagen, wrote on X.
Another user argued that not accepting secularism in sports may lead to further refusal of rules.
“If it does not accept the rules of secularism today, tomorrow it will not accept the rules of sport either!,” wrote a user called Paule Adda on X.
The Paris Olympic Games will be held next year from July 26 to August 11 in the French capital. Several non-French athletes and sports officials are expected to wear the hijab because the International Olympic Committee allows it and does not regard the headscarf as a religious symbol but a cultural one.
Since 2014, FIFA has also allowed its players to wear a hijab. In July this year Moroccan defender Nouhaila Benzina became the first veiled player in a World Cup.
Throughout last year, a group of footballers, known as “Les Hijabeuses,” lobbied the French Football Federation to overturn the ban, meeting with officials and even staging protests at the federation’s headquarters, but to no avail.
According to media reports, the group had applied to the Council of State against the FFF’s decision to ban the head covering but in June, their appeal was rejected and the Council of State upheld the ban.