Islamophobia Rooted in Sports
As of April 2021, the French Senate has voted in favor of banning “conspicuous religious symbols” in sports events and competitions, which includes the prohibition of wearing hijabs. Their justification is that it is protecting Muslim women from oppression and discrimination, even though the entire principle is rooted in racism and misogyny.
Banning hijabs results in the exact opposite of freedom and equality; it disallows Muslim athletes from intertwining their personal beliefs and convictions with athletics, which are things they shouldn’t have to decide between. The same atrocity occurred back in 2007, when FIFA (International Football Federation) upheld a ban policy on head coverings, claiming that they were dangerous even though there was no empirical data that proved such. The organization knew that they couldn’t cite “religious symbolism” as a reason, for that would be inconsistent with the religious tattoos and celebrations permitted on the field. \
As a result, Asmahan Mansour, a player on the Canadian Soccer Association, was ejected from the game for wearing her hijab. She, along with thousands of other girls, could no longer play. Despite increased public outcry and legislative changes, Muslim women are still found being sidelined and discouraged from joining regional and national leagues.
FIFA has allowed hijabs since 2014, yet the French Football Federation continues banning them; they are the only international body to exclude them. Athletes question why they have to choose between their religion and their sport; once again, Muslim voices, specifically those of women, are continued to be shut down by higher powers.
Action has been taken over the past five years, which brings into debate just how timely these new changes are. In 2017, Nike was undoubtedly the biggest company to offer hijabs for athletic use and take on the controversial backlash that came with it. Did they really want to advocate for change or were they taking advantage of shifting demographics for monetary purposes? Nike’s marketing has resulted in increased visibility for Muslim athletes, utilizing social media and mainstream sources to promote the product.
There has been notable outcry against French bans. Hashtags such as #handsoffmyhijab have circulated social media platforms and TikTok specifically has played a role in spreading awareness. French women created a French version of the hashtag: #PasToucheAMonHijab. The ban targets Muslims and is a violation of human rights, yet Les Républicains, the right-wing French senators, continue tightening restrictions, thus taking away Muslims’ freedom like never before. The secular law originally banned hijabs in schools and for civil servants, but the senate has also expanded this to extracurricular activities, like sports.
Their willingness to restrict Muslim women in sports normalizes exclusion and discrimination. Advocacy is evermore necessary and educating yourself on these matters will increase your involvement. Allowing hijabs shouldn’t be revolutionary or remarkable; it should be normal. Prohibiting people from wearing a garment that is extremely important to their culture and faith is a violation of their personal liberties, as it hinders their ability to express themselves. Religion and sports shouldn’t be a competition.