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Ahead of Paris 2024, Rights Organizations Call for End to French Basketball Hijab Ban

March 15, 2024

Last week, global advocacy coalition Sport & Rights Alliance called upon French basketball authorities to repeal the discriminatory ban on hijabs passed in December 2022 and provide equal access for Muslim women and girls in the sport. Muslim women have faced increasing discrimination and exclusions from professional to recreational leagues in basketball since the French Federation of Basketball’s (FFBB) decision to implement Article 9.3 to France’s General Sports Regulations. This rule prohibits the wearing of “any equipment with a religious or political connotation” at all levels and for all categories in basketball.

Such a sweeping prohibition was made despite the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) lifting its global ban on hijabs in 2017. The regulation has left many athletes feeling marginalized and compelled to make a difficult choice between their faith and the sport they love. France has one of the largest Muslim populations in Europe, but French lawmakers have repeatedly acted to limit the ability of Muslim women to participate in sports and even to wear religious coverings in public and at school. Last year, the French government banned French athletes from wearing hijabs at the upcoming Paris 2024 Olympics, a decision that saw condemnation from the United Nations’ human rights office. The International Olympic Committee said athletes may participate in the Olympics without any hijab restrictions.

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FFBB's decision to ban hijabs in 2022 ignited a fervent campaign to challenge the ruling from global sports and human rights organizations, athletes, coaches and other supporters, that continues today. The Sports & Rights Alliance, comprising NGOs and trade unions working to embed human rights across the world of sport, have added their voice to an already momentous movement to demand immediate changes in support of Muslim athletes. Over 80 athletes from around the world signed an open letter on March 8, 2024, demanding that the FFBB and FIBA immediately overturn the ban. Athletes including former youth French national team member, Diaba Konaté, Muslim Girls Ball Too founder and past Beyond Sport Global Award winner, Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir, WNBA star Breanna Stewart and pioneering US Olympic medalist Ibtihaj Muhammad joined as signatories to the letter.

These rules not only impede Muslim women’s dignity, but also violate international human rights laws and standards. The ban contradicts principles of inclusivity and diversity while challenging the fundamental human rights of individuals to express their religious identity, codified by human rights instruments like the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The rights of women and minorities are further affirmed in the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Critics argue the ban unjustly limits opportunities for Muslim women to participate fully in sports, perpetuating a culture of exclusion that goes against the spirit of fair play and equality.

“Rules that penalize women and girls who wish to wear the hijab undermine efforts to make women’s sport more inclusive and violate their human rights,” said Monica Costa Riba, Amnesty International’s senior campaigner on women’s rights in Europe. She emphasized that sporting authorities must “ensure their policies do not exclude entire groups of women and girls from sport and are free from racism and all forms of discrimination.”

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This sentiment was echoed by Andrea Florence, director of the Sport & Rights Alliance. Florence said, “The Sport & Rights Alliance supports athletes’ calls to end the discrimination of Muslim women and girls in France who are being denied the ability to play simply because of who they are.” She added, “we’re only months away from the Paris 2024 Olympics and Paralympics and it is about time the French Basketball Federation catches up with the principles of Olympism.”

Basket pour Toutes, a collective formed by Muslim women players, coaches, and allies, has also emerged as a powerful voice advocating for the rights and inclusion of Muslim women in basketball in France. The group has tirelessly campaigned against the discriminatory ban, emphasizing the importance of religious freedom and cultural diversity in sports in France.

As the pressure mounts on the French Basketball Federation, the fate of Muslim women basketball players hangs in the balance. “Sport is about passion, effort and diversity,” said Hélène Bâ, Basket Pour Toutes co-founder and basketball player. “It should be a place where you sweat, where you make new encounters and where you grow – not where you face bigotry. We don’t want any woman or girl to discover what sexism, racism or bigotry is on a basketball court.”

Sources: Arab News, Amnesty International


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