Salimata Sylla denounces a discrimination, noting that the International Basketball Federation allows female players to play with headscarves.
by Massimo Introvigne
There are stories that can happen only in France. French call them “franco-françaises,” or quintessentially French. One concerns the French obsession with combating “separatism,” or the possibility that religious communities, be they “cults” or parts of Islam, live a culture “separated” from the principles of the secular Republic.
25-year-old Salimata Sylla is a player for the French 3rd-league team Aubervilliers. Her career had caught the attention of the media, as she grew up in a problematic and crime-ridden banlieue. Hers was a success story of integrating into French society through sport. She was often invited to give talks to young banlieue girls, and was featured in a Footlocker promotional campaign.
She appeared in all these events with a headscarf, and she wore it when she played. This was not a problem until in 2021 France passed its controversial law against “separatism,” and inspired by it the French Federation of Basketball decided in 2022 that female players could not wear headscarves. Sylla was stopped from playing a game on January 8 and, since she insists on wearing her headscarf, has been prevented from playing ever since, after 14 years of her life devoted to basketball.
She is now organizing an alternative league where women players can wear headscarves but it also challenging the French Federation and gathering supporters. She notes that the International Basketball Federation does allow female players to play with headscarves.
Her protest has generated a few Islamophobic comments on social media, inviting her to “go play in Saudi Arabia.” The French Federation is not applying any international rule, it is just enforcing the ideology of anti-separatism. As I said, some things seem to happen only in France.