French lawmakers have voted in favor of an amendment prohibiting the wearing of veils at sporting events, resulting in the exclusion of Muslim female athletes from competitive field sports.
During a discussion on the sports bill in the Senate, the upper house of parliament, lawmakers adopted an amendment late Tuesday that aims to prohibit the wearing of veils in competitions organized by the country’s sporting federations in order to maintain “neutrality” on a sports field.
Some 160 lawmakers voted in favor and 143 against, amending the bill concerning democratizing sport and securing the conditions of those exercising professional sport to include the following text: the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols is prohibited for participation in sports events and sports competitions organized by sports federations and affiliated associations.
The objective behind introducing this change in the bill, lawmakers said, was due to the legal ambiguity on the wearing of religious symbols. They felt that even though it is a marginal issue, it was necessary for the state to clearly define the rules.
“If the wearing of the veil is not explicitly prohibited, we could see the emergence of community sports clubs promoting certain religious symbols. In addition, the veil represents in many cases a major risk for the safety of practitioners,” the text said.
Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu expressed her dissent over this particular amendment, which she reminded lawmakers was against the spirit secularism guaranteed by the republic.
“Sport is first and foremost a way to bond. Preventing and fighting against discrimination linked to homophobia, sexism or disability in sport means advancing the whole of society,” she later said on Twitter, without mentioning the ban on veils.
Officials of the National Association of Students in Sciences and Techniques of Physical and Sporting Activities denounced the amendment, which could risk excluding Muslim females from participating in professional sports as well as preventing the younger generation from choosing competitive sports.
“Laicite (secularism) guarantees believers and non-believers the same right to freedom of expression of their beliefs. This measure goes against secularism,” Maelle Nizan, vice president of the student body, said on Twitter.
Leila Alem, in charge of sports affairs, underlined that the state must practice the neutrality principle and not individuals.
“A deplorable measure that undermines the values of sport: inclusion and cohesion,” she added.
Earlier, the Senate had voted for the same amendment prohibiting the wearing of the veil during a sports competition during the bill reinforcing the respect of the principles of the republic or the so-called anti-separatism bill. The said amendment was ruled out from the final text adopted by parliament.
The changes made in the sports bill by the Senate will once again be up for discussion with the National Assembly before they become law.
With France set to host the 2024 Olympics and presidential elections due in April, legalizing the veil ban could be appalling for the optics./agencies