SARCELLES, France – Every time Ms. Diakité goes to a soccer match, her stomach becomes full.
It also happened on a Saturday afternoon in Sarcelles, a suburb north of Paris. His sports team came to meet a local club, and Diakité, a 23-year-old Muslim player, feared he would not be allowed to wear his hijab.
At this point, the judge allowed him to enter. “It was possible,” he said at the end of the game, leaning against a wall that bordered the stadium, his smiling face wrapped in a black Nike headband.
But Diakité did crash.
For years, the French football federation has banned athletes from wearing traditional religious hijabs, a law that promotes strict adherence to religious principles. Although the ban is talked about indiscriminately at the sporting level, it has been hanging on to Muslim players for years, undermining their hopes for professional careers and chasing others in all sports.
In an increasingly diverse and multiracial country of France, where women’s soccer is flourishing, the ban has once again sparked controversy. Ahead of the conflict was Les Hijabeuses, a group of young hijab-wearing soccer players from various factions who have joined forces to launch a campaign against the so-called racist law that removes Muslim women from sport.
Their actions have affected the nerves in France, revived disputes over Muslim inclusion in a country with a tense relationship with Islam, and highlighted the struggle of the French sporting authorities to reconcile their strict cultural security with the chanting of a major demonstration. field.
“What we want is to be accepted as we are, to use these great words of diversity, inclusive,” said Founé Diawara, president of Les Hijabeuses, who has 80 members. “Our goal is to play football.”
The Hijabeuses group was formed in 2020 with the help of researchers and regional planners to address the issue: Although French and FIFA rules, the governing body of football, allows women to wear the hijab, the French football association prohibits this, saying it would violate the rules. neutrality in religious politics.
Proponents of her case have been working to make the actual transcript of this statement available online. But the personal stories of Hijabeuses members underscore how football has always been a release – and how the ban continues to feel like a backlash.
Diakité started playing soccer when he was 12 years old, at first hiding from his parents, who viewed football as a boys’ sport. “I wanted to be a professional football player,” he said, calling it a “dream.”
Jean-Claude Njehoya, his current teacher, noted that “when he was younger, he had a lot of talent” that would make him reach his highest potential. But “from the beginning” he understood that the hijab ban could affect him, he said, “he did not go further.”
Diakité said she decided to wear the hijab in 2018 – and gave up her dream. He is currently playing for a third-tier club and wants to open a driving school. “No grief,” he said. “I am accepted as I am, or not. And that’s it. ”
Karthoum Dembele, a 19-year-old midfielder who wears a nose ring, also said he had to meet with his mother to let him play. He immediately got involved in a high school sports program and participated in club trials. But it wasn’t until he heard about the ban, four years ago, that he realized he might not be allowed to compete anymore.
“I was able to make my mother lose and I was told that the federation would not allow me to play,” said Dembele. “I told myself: What a joke!”
Some members of the group recalled incidents when the judges banned them from the court, which caused others, embarrassment, to leave the ball and turn to sports where hijab is allowed or permitted, such as handball or futsal.
Last year, Les Hijabeuses urged the French football association to lift the ban. He sent letters, met with government officials and staged a protest rally in the federal capital – but to no avail. The commission declined to comment further.
Surprisingly, it was Les Hijabeuses’ opponents who put them on the scene.
In January, a group of independent senators tried to enforce a ban on hijab ban from the governing body, claiming that the hijab threatened to spread radical Islam in sports clubs. The move reflects France’s instability with regard to the Muslim veil, which is a constant source of controversy. In 2019, a French store abandoned the sale of hijab for athletes after criticism.
Encouraged by senatorial efforts, Les Hijabeuses launched a vigorous campaign against the change. Taking advantage of their online presence – the group has about 30,000 followers on Instagram – launched a petition that collected more than 70,000 signatures; encouraged many celebrities in the sport to achieve their goals; and organizing games in front of the Senate and as well as professional athletes.
Vikash Dhorasoo, a former French player who took part in the game, said the ban surprised him. He said: “I do not understand. “It is the Muslims who are heading here.”
Stéphane Piednoir, the senator who initiated the change, criticized what he said was the prerogative of Muslims in particular, saying that what they were looking for were religious symbols. But he acknowledged that the change was motivated by the wearing of a Muslim veil, which he called a “political propaganda car” of Islamic politics and “a way of turning people around.” (Piednoir has also criticized the portrayal of PSG’s Neymar star tattoos as “unfortunate” and wondered if religious sanctions should be extended to them.)
The amendment was rejected by most government officials in parliament, although there were no controversies. Paris police have banned protests organized by Les Hijabeuses, and the French sports minister, who he said the law allows women wearing hijab to play, against the government friends against a head scarf.
The Hijabeuse fight may not be as popular in France, where 6 out of 10 people help block hijabs on the streets, according to a recent CSA poll. Marine Le Pen, the president’s right-hand man who will meet President Emmanuel Macron in the run-up to the April 24 – and firing-off vote – said that if elected, he would block the Muslim veil in public.
But, on the football field, everyone seems to agree that the hijab should be allowed.
“No one would be happy to play with them,” said Rana Kenar, 17, a Sarcelles player who came to watch his team face Diakité on a cold February evening.
Kenar had been in bleachers with about 20 of his teammates.
Even the player in Sarcelles, who allowed Diakité to play, seemed unconcerned with the ban. “I looked at the other one,” he said, refusing to say his name for fear of offending him.
Pierre Samsonoff, former vice-chancellor of the football governing body, said the issue will come back in the coming years, with the development of women’s soccer and the hosting of the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, which will feature players in Islamic clothing. . countries.
Samsonoff, who previously defended the ban on wearing the hijab, said he has since eased his stance, acknowledging that the policy could confuse Muslim players. “The issue is that if we do not make a bad impression by thinking of banning in the fields rather than thinking of permitting,” he said.
Piednoir, a senator, said the players are isolating themselves. But he admitted he had never spoken to hijab runners to hear their encouragement, comparing what was happening to “firefighters” who were asked to go “listen to pyromaniacs.”
Dembele, who oversees Hijabeuses’ accounts, said he was often affected by cybercrime and violent political opposition.
“If we continue,” he said. “The only exceptions are the girls who can dream of playing in France tomorrow, at PSG.”
Monique James supported reports.