Neutrality or injustice?

France’s legislation against Muslim women in sports marks a new era of discrimination

By Zeinab Rakhshandehroo

Sports are a global connection, an activity anyone can participate in. Ideally free from prejudice and discrimination, sports are meant to be open to all – no matter their race, gender, socioeconomic status or ability. However, these rights are being infringed upon in France, as the country has recently passed a law banning hijab-wearing women from playing soccer on any public or school teams. 

Specifically, this law bans “ostensible religious symbols” in sports competitions, according to CNN. Supporters of the bill claim it is meant to maintain neutrality in sports and hinder tensions between non-religious and religious players on teams. While this legislature appears to be targeted at all religious symbols – it also bans the Jewish kippah – the senator behind the amendment admitted it was motivated by the Muslim veil, according to The New York Times.

Though in the name of equality, France’s bill promotes bigotry and prejudice in sports. (Illustration by Zeinab Rakhshandehroo)

As a hijabi woman myself, this ban is particularly insulting to me. I love playing soccer, and the sport featured heavily in my childhood. It is unsettling to me that other young girls in France do not have the same opportunities as me. This law forces Muslim women to choose between their love of soccer and their religious beliefs, a decision which no one should be forced to make.

Unfortunately, this legislature does not come as a surprise. France has a long history with Islamaphobia, especially towards Muslim women. In 2004, wearing a headscarf was banned in public schools, and the country has recently passed another bill prohibiting girls under the age of 18 from wearing the hijab in public, according to NPR. This intolerance creates an unsafe and unwelcome environment for hijabi women living in France, and by extension for Muslims all around the world. The knowledge that I can never visit France myself because I’d be forced to give up my religious beliefs is a crushing and dismal thought.

This discriminatory law is a giant step backwards for the world. Sports are steep in prejudice with the unequal media coverage of women’s sports in comparison to mens and the exclusion of disable players from sports teams, according to the European Parliament. Perhaps now it is just hijabi women being targeted, but if no consequences are administered, then other countries and sports may feel they can get away with this bigotry as well. 

Even through smaller acts of protest, people are able to stand up against such acts of discrimintion and fight for more inclusivity in sports around the world. Spreading awareness of this issue on social media is a powerful and wide-reaching way to motivate change. France’s ban of hijabi women in soccer is just the beginning, and this injustice will only continue to spread if nothing is done to prevent it.