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Worldwide outrage as France bans its athletes from wearing hijab at 2024 Paris Olympics

The controversial move by French sports minister to ban the hijab stirs online protests as restrictions on Muslim attire tighten.

French Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera declared on Sunday that veils would not be permitted for French athletes participating in the upcoming 2024 Paris Olympic Games, sparking outrage worldwide.

Speaking on the France 3 show Sunday In Politics on Sunday, Oudea-Castera left no room for interpertations, maintaining that the ban on head coverings was non-negotiable.

“The representatives of our delegations in our French teams will not wear the veil,” she asserted.

“As for the French position on the subject, we have, thanks to a recent decision of the Council of State, expressed very clearly with the prime minister our attachment to a regime of strict secularism, strictly applied in the field of sport,” she added. “This means the prohibition of any form of proselytism, the absolute neutrality of public service.”

This announcement comes amid heightened scrutiny of Muslim attire in France, particularly after the recent ban on schoolgirls wearing the abaya.

France already enforces a ban on Muslim women wearing veils or hijabs within public institutions, including government offices, schools, and universities. Many employers also unofficially stir away form hiring women who wear the headscarf or start to during their employment.

The purported reason behind these controversial measures is to force Muslims to fall in line with France’s robust interpretation of laicite, or state-enforced secularism, which means they want to keep religious symbols out of government institutions.

While theoretically applicable to all religions, these stringent policies predominantly impact Muslim women who wear headscarves or abayas for cultural or religious reasons.

Responding to the recent ban targeting Muslim athletes, the United Nations made it clear that it strongly disapproves of most dress codes for women.

“No-one should impose on a woman what she needs to wear or not wear,” United Nations rights office spokeswoman Marta Hurtado told reporters in Geneva.

Oudea-Castera also took aim at the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for their differing stance on the issue. “The IOC, which governs these rules of participation, is following a logic which considers the wearing of the veil not as religious but as cultural,” she pointed out.

While FIFA has allowed women to wear the hijab since 2014, the French Council of State ruled in June that wearing the veil in women’s football would remain prohibited, giving the French Football Federation leeway to enact rules it deems necessary for the “smooth running” of matches.

The controversy surrounding Muslim attire in France escalated last month when Education Minister Gabriel Attal announced the ban on abayas in educational institutions, citing concerns about secularism.

“I have decided that the abaya could no longer be worn in schools,” Attal said in an interview with the French TV channel TF1.

“Secularism means the freedom to emancipate one’s self through school,” he asserted, describing the abaya as “a religious gesture, aimed at testing the resistance of the republic towards the secular sanctuary that school must constitute.”

Social media rages

In response to the ban on hijabs at the 2024 Paris Olympics, social media users have stressed the “unacceptable” institutional discrimination and called for a boycott of the event.

One user on the X platform, formerly known as Twitter, said: “Oh no… we’ll have to boycott the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris as the Minister of Sports just explained that French athletes won’t be able to wear the hijab. Is it also for foreign athletes!?! If yes, then the American Ibtihaj Muhammad couldn’t have won her bronze medal,” referring to the first American to wear a hijab in the major Olympic competitions.

“No respect for women’s rights and even less for those of migrants. We must boycott countries that violate women’s rights,” another such frustrated user wrote:

Some argued that sporting events should not have the authority to prohibit religious symbols, especially if they do not interfere with the sport in any way.

“Leave them alone, seriously. Sport must ignore this; the veil does not hinder sports, so allow them to leave it on and that’s it. Always looking for problems when there are none,” a user penned.

“They will use every opportunity to: Police our bodies, shatter our dreams, break our power, punish us for our choices, humiliate us for our beliefs, erase us from public life,” another exclaimed.

Activists and human rights groups have long voiced concerns that the intense scrutiny of the hijab and Muslim women’s clothing, often under the guise of religious symbol prohibitions, reflects a troubling normalisation of Islamophobia in European countries.

Prominent French political thinker Francois Burgat believes that the main reason behind the opposition to Islam in France stems from “is that the sons of the colonizers do not want to accept the fact that the sons of the colonized raise their voice and ask for their rights,” he said in an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency.

“And I will give you a kind of demonstration … If you are a cleaning lady in France, you may wear the hijab, there is absolutely no issue. [But] If you wear a hijab and you want to be a professor or a lawyer, here comes the issue. Here comes the defence of secularism.”

Just last week, French President Emmanuel Macron came under fire after images showed him standing beside Queen Camilla and French First Lady Brigitte Macron – both of whom were donning long evening gowns, normally worn by Muslim women.

Meanwhile, French Muslim women were being sent away from schools for showing up in similar long and modest dresses. Muslims across France and the world said this was clear double standards and exposed how such policies are designed specifically to discriminate against Muslims.

Islamophobia in France

Islamophobia has been a staple within French parliament over recent years.

France has been accused of systematically targeting its Muslim population due to a surge of marginalising policies driven by President Emmanuel Macron to address the supposed “separatism and Islamism”, a recent report by the British advocacy group, Cage, said.

The report underlines Macron’s implementation of executive powers to create a “systematic obstruction” policy to target Muslim groups and entities in France over the span of the last four years. Some of these policies include anti-separatism law and the Imam charter, which was created in November 2021 and drafted by the state-backed French Council of the Muslim Faith.

The charter forces religious leaders to “subordinate” themselves to ‘French Islam’, a concept manufactured by the government in hopes to assimilate Islam with republicanism.

In 2019, major French sports company, Decathlon, was pressured into halting its introduction of sportswear crafted for Muslim women which included a runner’s suit as well as head scarf, giving in to the harsh criticism from politicians and high-profile figures in the French government, reports stated.