‘It’s brutal’ – how French football’s hijab ban is affecting Muslim women

Show caption Teens training on a public football pitch just outside Paris. Photograph: Giulia Frigieri/The Guardian Moving the Goalposts ‘It’s brutal’ – how French football’s hijab ban is affecting Muslim women This week we speak to the activist Shireen Ahmed and the lawyer Marion Ogier about the fight to end the ban on the hijab Júlia Belas Trindade Wed 4 May 2022 12.03 BST Share on Facebook

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Welcome to Moving the Goalposts, the Guardian’s new (and free) women’s football newsletter. Here’s an extract from this week’s edition. To receive the full version once a week, just pop your email in below.

The women’s game is built on a foundation of work, sweat and tears all over the world to get us to where we are now – record-breaking audiences, professionalism and steady growth in interest. However, there are still an enormous amount of obstacles to overcome and one of them is the ban on Muslim women wearing the hijab in connection with football in France. This is not just about France, though, it affects how the world views female Muslim players – professional and amateurs.

“I gave up playing football when I was 20 because I started to wear hijab,” says Shireen Ahmed, a Canadian sports journalist and activist. “Living without football was not going to be possible for me but it’s really hard to find a re-entry point back when you feel that way.”

For her, more than hindering the chances of Muslim girls becoming footballers, the decision excludes them from being part of growing the game at every level. “It’s not just playing,” she says of the situation in France. “They cannot coach, they cannot officiate. They are literally excluded from the entire space. It’s brutal. There’s a clear ‘we hate Muslim women’ vibe.”

This week, Muslim people celebrated Eid al-Fitr all over the world, a festival that marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan. But in France, as Lyon are getting ready for their 10th Women’s Champions League final, the French Football Federation still excludes women from the game because of the ban on “ostentatious” religious symbols (which includes the Jewish kippah). “It is part of a system of white supremacy, xenophobia, Islamophobia and anti-Muslim sentiment,” Ahmed says. “To ban Muslim women in headscarves from sport is extremely problematic.”

Les Hijabeuses is a French collective fighting against the FFF ban to promote a more inclusive society in France. There has been recent success in the senate and parliament in overturning a recent bill that included an amendment looking to apply it to all sports in France. Now the next step is to get the FFF to change its ruling.

Marion Ogier, a lawyer working with Les Hijabeuses, says: “The French parliament decided against prohibiting the wearing of religious symbols during sports competitions but the decision did not lead to the FFF to review its rules. The Council of State [the highest court in France for administrative matters] is currently examining an appeal against the federation.” Ogier points out that the government is not responsible for the current ban – the FFF is. Les Hijabeuses expect a decision on the matter by the end of the year.

Ogier feels that the FFF “subjects participants in football competitions to a principle of neutrality” and it does seem to show that the people making the decisions are not familiar with the needs, choices and desires of those they want to “save”.

The matter goes beyond the right to play football and whether to wear a hijab or not. It also goes beyond the Muslim communities in France. Ahmed says: “Siloing Muslim women is a problem. We have the same struggle. They are my sisters, whether they wear a bikini, a burkini or a burka. I will advocate for their inclusion in football. Women should have a place and they should have the option and the right to participate.”

A ban for the hijab means that there is no sense of true belonging for Muslim women. “Football is truly a world language and it’s a vehicle for inclusion for so many people,” Ahmed says. “So why on earth would we exclude certain people?” She says that a diverse set-up when decisions are made is key to moving forward. “Muslim women are not all monolithic, we’re not all the same. I think the most important thing is to actually include Muslim women in the discussion.”

Talking points

Road Down Under: We’re getting closer and closer to knowing the 32 teams that will fight for the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand next year. Four teams from the 2022 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations in Morocco, taking place in July, will secure their tickets and now we know the groups. Morocco, the hosts, are joined by Burkina Faso, Senegal and Uganda in group A; Cameroon, Zambia, Tunisia and Togo are in group B; and the 11-time champions Nigeria join South Africa, Burundi and Botswana in group C.

South Africa’s Linda Motlhalo in action against the Netherlands last month. Photograph: Hollandse Hoogte/Shutterstock

Fans for the women’s game: The Football Supporters’ Association has launched its Women’s Game Strategy to give fans a say on the development of the women’s game. 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 to improve supporter engagement within four pillars: diversity, sustainability, education and development.

A more inclusive football: Brockwell United, a grassroots South London side also known as the Swans, continue their efforts to make football more inclusive towards women and non-binary players. This week they released their new kits designed by the illustrator Donatella Esposito (she/her), with a style that reminds us of 1990s classic kits. BUFC’s chair, Ellie Levitt (she/her), says: “As we see interest in women’s football at the national and local level continue to grow, we hope moments 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 will be waiting with open arms.” Take a look at the kits on the Instagram page.

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