‘It’s brutal’ – how the hijab ban in French football affects Muslim women | sport
Welcome to Moving the Goalposts, the new (and free) women’s football newsletter from The Guardian. Here is an excerpt from this week’s edition. To receive the full version once a week, simply insert your email below.
Women’s football is built on a foundation of hard work, sweat and tears all over the world to get us to where we are now – record ratings, professionalism and steadily growing interest. However, there are still a lot of obstacles to overcome and one of them is the ban on Muslim women wearing the hijab in football in France. It’s not just about France, however, it affects how the world views Muslim female players – professional and amateur.
“I stopped playing football when I was 20 because I started wearing the hijab,” says Shireen Ahmed, Canadian sports journalist and activist. “Living without football was not going to be possible for me, but it’s really hard to find a point of return when you feel like this.”
For her, in addition to hampering Muslim girls’ chances of becoming footballers, the decision excludes them from being part of the growth of the game at all levels. “It’s not just about playing,” she says of the situation in France. “They can’t coach, they can’t referee. They are literally excluded from all space. It’s brutal. There is definitely a “we hate Muslim women” vibe.
This week, Muslims around the world celebrated Eid al-Fitr, a holiday that marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan. But in France, as Lyon prepare for their 10th Women’s Champions League final, the French Football Federation is still excluding women from the game due to a ban on “ostentatious” religious symbols (including the Jewish yarmulke). “It’s part of a system of white supremacy, xenophobia, Islamophobia and anti-Muslim sentiment,” Ahmed says. “Banning Muslim women wearing the headscarf from playing sports is extremely problematic.”
Les Hijabeuses is a French collective fighting against the ban on the FFF to promote a more inclusive society in France. The senate and parliament recently succeeded in overturning a recent bill that included an amendment to apply it to all sports in France. Now the next step is to get the FFF to change its decision.
Marion Ogier, lawyer for the Hijabeuses, says: “The French parliament decided not to prohibit the wearing of religious symbols during sports competitions, but this decision did not lead the FFF to review its rules. The state Council [the highest court in France for administrative matters] is currently examining an appeal against the federation. Ogier stresses that the government is not responsible for the current ban – the FFF is. The Hijabeuses expect a decision on the matter by the end of the year.
Ogier believes that the FFF “subjects participants in football competitions to a principle of neutrality” and this seems to show that decision-makers do not know the needs, choices and desires of those they want to “save”.
The question goes beyond the right to play football and whether or not to wear a hijab. It also goes beyond the Muslim communities of France. Ahmed says: “The compartmentalization of Muslim women is a problem. We have the same fight. They are my sisters, whether they wear a bikini, a burkini or a burqa. I will advocate for their inclusion in football. Women should have a place and they should have the possibility and the right to participate.
Banning the hijab means there is no real sense of belonging for Muslim women. “Football is truly a global language and it’s a vehicle for inclusion for so many people,” says Ahmed. “So why the hell would we exclude certain people?” She says a diverse setup when decisions are made is essential moving forward. “Muslim women are not all monolithic, we are not all the same. I think the most important thing is to really include Muslim women in the discussion.
Road down: We are getting closer and closer to knowing the 32 teams that will be battling for the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand next year. Four teams from the 2022 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations in Morocco, which will take place in July, will get their tickets and now we know the groups. Hosts Morocco are joined by Burkina Faso, Senegal and Uganda in Group A; Cameroon, Zambia, Tunisia and Togo are in Group B; and eleven-time champions Nigeria join South Africa, Burundi and Botswana in Group C.
Supporters for the women’s game: The Football Supporters’ Association has launched its Women’s Game Strategy to give fans a say in the development of women’s football. Its mission is to develop women’s football while ensuring that supporters participate in decision-making processes and push for positive change. The document – which you can read here – details strategies for improving supporter engagement across four pillars: diversity, sustainability, education and development.
More inclusive football: Brockwell United, a popular South London team also known as the Swans, are continuing their efforts to make football more inclusive of women and non-binary players. This week they released their new kits designed by illustrator Donatella Esposito (her), with styling that reminds us of classic kits from the 1990s. BUFC President Ellie Levitt (her) said: “While we see that interest in women’s football at national and local level continues to grow, we hope that times like the Women’s Euros tournament will inspire the next generation of women and non-binary people to see this as a sport for them – we’ll be waiting with open arms. Take a look at the kits on the Instagram page.
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