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French government accused of discriminating against its own athletes by banning the hijab at the Olympics

The French government has been accused of discriminating against its own athletes, who will not be allowed to wear the hijab during the Paris Olympics.

The International Olympic Committee announced in September that athletes participating in the 2024 Paris Olympics can wear a hijab in the athletes’ village, but a ban will apply to athletes from the host country.

said Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch Independent that the French ban on athletes wearing hijabs violates the Olympic Charter.

She said: “The exclusionary effect of France’s hijab ban across multiple sports is that many women and girls from the Olympic host country are discriminated against, excluded and prevented from playing, practicing and competing in the sports they love and excel at .

“This is a violation of both the Olympic Charter, which states that ‘sport is a human right,’ and the International Olympic Committee’s new human rights framework. These French female athletes are excluded from competitive sports in their country and have no access to remedies for them.”

During Tuesday’s news conference, Worden said the hijab ban had forced some French athletes to leave the country or consider going abroad.

Helene Ba, a French basketball player and lawyer, said this summer’s hijab ban “only targeted Muslim athletes wearing the hijab, which constitutes clear discrimination based on gender and religion.”

She said: “This is a clear violation of the values ​​and provisions of the Olympic Charter, but it is also a violation of our fundamental rights and freedoms. This violates our freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as our right to practice sports.

“It reinforces gender and racial stereotypes and fuels the anti-Muslim hatred that already pervades parts of French society.”

Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir, a former NCAA basketball player who led the International Federation of Basketball’s (FIBA) decision to overturn the hijab ban in 2017, said: “It almost brings me to tears because why do we still have to go through this? Why do I have to explain that I am Muslim and I play basketball well?

OLY Paris Olympic rings
OLY Paris Olympic rings (Copyright 2024 Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

The hijab ban has gained prominence in debates over so-called “secularism,” a term meaning the separation of church and state.

Headscarves and other clearly visible religious symbols have been banned in state schools since March 2004 in France, which is home to the largest Muslim population in Western Europe.

In January 2022, the French Senate voted to ban athletes from wearing headscarves during competition.

In September, French Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera, a former professional tennis player, confirmed that the French Olympic team was under secular rules.

“This means absolute neutrality in public services,” she told France 3 television. “The France team will not wear a headscarf.”

The letter to the president of the International Olympic Committee, signed by Amnesty International, the Committee to Protect Journalists and Human Rights Watch, among others, calls on the committee to “publicly call on sports authorities in France to lift all bans on athletes wearing the hijab in French sport, both at Paris 2024 , as always and at all levels of sport.

The letter adds: “Women and girls in France who wear the hijab are prohibited from participating in many sports, including football, basketball, judo, boxing, volleyball and badminton – even at youth and amateur levels.

“Hijab bans in sports have resulted in discrimination, invisibility, exclusion and humiliation for many Muslim athletes, resulting in trauma and social isolation.”

We asked the International Olympic Committee for comment.