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Advancements made by French women’s football organization against headscarf prohibition

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A women’s soccer group in France that has been fighting to overturn a ban on female players wearing the Islamic headscarf made legal progress in its legal battle on Monday.

Under its current rules, the French Football Federation bans all players, even amateurs, from wearing “ostentatious” religious symbols in the name of French secularism, and bans players from wearing Islamic headscarves or Jewish kippas.

A Muslim women’s group known as “The Veil” launched a legal challenge to the rules in November 2021, claiming that they were discriminatory and violated their right to freely practice their religion.

The issue reached France’s Constitutional Council on Monday, where the general rapporteur, whose views generally follow the nine-member council, said he was breaking the union’s rules and recommended a change to the rule.

Clement Malverti said there was no “neutral clause” for footballers who should not be subject to the same rules as government officials such as teachers or civil servants who are prohibited from displaying their religious beliefs.

He said that football was “full” of religious symbols, including a cross on the shirts of the Auxerre professional team, players making the sign of the cross when entering the field, or tattooing religious symbols.

He added that consideration could be given to banning headscarves for female national players who represent the nation and carry out a “public service mission”.

The council is due to issue a decision within three weeks.

Veil’s attorney, Marion Ogier, said it was “too early to weep over the victory”, but said the general rapporteur’s conclusions were “in our favour”.

“Our fight is neither political nor religious. It is about sport and sport only,” von Diawara, head of the hijab organization, told reporters. “There are women who are excluded from football stadiums every weekend because they wear headscarves.”

French secular laws guarantee religious freedom for all citizens and contain no provisions on prohibiting the wearing of religious symbols in public, with the exception of face coverings, which were banned in 2010.

Many right-wing politicians in France want to expand restrictions on the headscarf, seeing it as a political statement supporting Islamism and an affront to French values.

In last year’s presidential election, far-right leader Marine Le Pen proposed a ban on headscarves in all public spaces, which experts said would have almost certainly been struck down as unconstitutional if she had been elected.

The French Senate, which is dominated by the right-wing Republican Party, also tried to pass a law in January last year that would have banned the wearing of overtly religious symbols in all competitive sports.

The ruling centrist party, led by President Emmanuel Macron, rejected it in the House of Representatives.

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