The opinion of the “rapporteur public” is generally followed. It wasn’t this time.
by Massimo Introvigne
Bitter Winter reported in May that, while international sport federations generally allow Muslim female players to wear hijabs, France enforces its laws against “separatism,” i.e., the attempt of religious communities to self-organize themselves as they deem fit and live “separately” from the secular values of “la République.” As a consequence, basketball players are excluded from playing if they insist on wearing hijabs.
The same problem exists in female soccer. FIFA, the international federation, allows the use of hijab by female players. The French Football Federation (FFF) doesn’t, seeing there a sign of “separatism.”
A group of female players calling themselves the “Hijabeuses” sued the FFF before the State Council. On June 26, the Public Rapporteur presented his recommendations. They are generally followed, but this time they were not. On June 29, the Council of State with a short decision confirmed that the FFF may exclude players wearing hijab from its games.
The Public Rapporteur Clément Malverti distinguished between the games of the French national teams, where Muslim players “represent the nation” and perform “a public service,” where in his opinion there may be reasons to prohibit the hijab (although—my comment, not Malverti’s—that runs counter the FIFA rules), and the games of the French leagues, where players represent their teams.
Malverti said that believing that there is a “requirement of neutrality” in soccer derives from a misunderstanding. Players routinely protest racism and discrimination, for example with “knees to the ground” to support the Black Lives Matter movement, including in international games. There would be no reason, Malverti said, to allow political non-neutrality and censor the religious one. Besides, Christian religious signs have been tolerated in French soccer. He quoted the “Maltese cross” on the shirts of the Auxerre them, and the fact that many players make the sign of the cross as they enter the field.
The Public Rapporteur also noted that the FFF has a “monopoly” on organizing soccer matches in France, meaning that the anti-hijab rule in fact compels devout Muslim players to “renounce all competitions and careers.”
However, the State Council did not accept the reasonable suggestions of the Public Rapporteur and missed an occasion to put an end to this and other “secularistic deviances” promoted by French public and semi-public institutions.