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Basket Pour Toutes Calls on the IOC to End Hijab Ban Ahead of the 2024 Paris Olympic Games

Human Rights Watch publishes a statement on behalf of numerous sports organisations urging the International Olympic Committee to publicly call on sporting authorities in France to overturn the Hijab Ban in French sport.

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Human Rights Watch publishes a statement on behalf of numerous sports organisations urging the International Olympic Committee to publicly call on sporting authorities in France to overturn the Hijab Ban in French sport.

By Basket Pour Toutes

In advance of the Paris 2024 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games, the undersigned organisations are writing to ask the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to publicly call on sporting authorities in France to overturn all bans on athletes wearing the hijab in French sport, both at Paris 2024 and at all times and all levels of sport.

The country’s discrimination against women and girls wearing the hijab is particularly concerning given the IOC’s celebration of Paris 2024 as the first “Gender Equal Olympics”.

Women and girls in France who wear the hijab have been and are being prevented from playing multiple sports, including footballbasketballjudoboxingvolleyball and badminton – even at youth and amateur levels.

The hijab bans in sports have resulted in many Muslim athletes being discriminated against, invisibilised, excluded and humiliated, causing trauma and social isolation – some have left or are considering leaving the country to seek playing opportunities elsewhere.

The bans imposed by the French sports authorities are discriminatory and prevent Muslim athletes who decide to wear the hijab from exercising their human right to play sport without discrimination of any kind. The effect of these bans is that Muslim women and girls wearing the hijab will never be able to qualify for the Games, given that these bans preclude them from the necessary training and competition opportunities to even reach the Olympic level. Additionally, they heighten the context of systemic discrimination, Islamophobia and discrimination on the basis of religion that Muslim women and girl athletes are already subjected to before, during and after the Olympics and Paralympics.

France’s hijab ban against Muslim women and girl athletes places the Olympic host country in clear breach of multiple obligations under international human rights treaties to which it is party. The bans also fly in the face of the human rights requirements for host countries and the IOC Strategic Framework on Human Rights, as well as being antithetical to the Fundamental Principles of Olympism.

In September 2023, the IOC stated publicly that restrictions placed on the Muslim French athletes at the Paris Olympic and Paralympic Games announced by the French Sports Minister in September 2023 will not apply to athletes from other nations in the Olympic Village. This position fails to challenge France’s discriminatory ban and address an ongoing harmful practice impacting athletes wearing hijab.

We are also concerned that Basket Pour Toutes and other Muslim women and supporters are being denied opportunities to be heard about the impact of the bans by the French Federation of Basketball (FFBB) and other sports bodies. Global and national sporting authorities must engage with impacted people to ensure their policies do not exclude groups of women and girls from sport, are free from racism and gender discrimination and their freedom of religion or belief and their right to take part in cultural life are respected.

Therefore, we call on the IOC, as Leader of the Olympic Movement, use your considerable leverage in advance of Paris 2024 to publicly call on French sporting authorities to overturn all bans on athletes wearing the hijab in France – at all levels of sport. This important step would ensure the Olympics and Paralympics leave a true legacy towards gender equality in France by ensuring all women and girls can have their right to non-discrimination respected and protected, and their right to participate in sports guaranteed.

Notes from the Editor: This statement was undersigned by Basket Pour Toutes, Athlete Ally, The Sport & Rights Alliance, Amnesty International, The Committee to Protect Journalists, Human Rights Watch, Transparency International Germany and the World Players Association.

Background: The IOC Charter’s Fundamental Principle 4 of Olympism states that “[T]he practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have access to the practice of sport, without discrimination of any kind in respect of internationally recognised human rights within the remit of the Olympic Movement.” Principle 6 of Olympism expressly provides that “the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Olympic Charter shall be secured without discrimination of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, sexual orientation, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”

Olympic Host Contracts have a dedicated requirement for hosts to “protect and respect human rights and ensure any violation of human rights is remedied in a manner consistent with international agreements, laws and regulations applicable in the Host Country and in a manner consistent with all internationally recognised human rights standards and principles, including the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), applicable in the Host Country”. In addition, ‘equality and non discrimination’ are one of the five focus areas of the IOC strategic framework on Human Rights. These requirements apply to the Olympic and Paralympic Games from 2024 onwards.

Prohibitions on the wearing of hijab in public spaces violate Muslim women’s rights under international human rights laws and standards, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which France has ratified. France is also bound by international human rights law, specifically the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, to counter gender-based stereotypes, which obliges France to take steps to end negative gender stereotypes relating to women and men, or to specific groups of women and promote the values of gender equality and nondiscrimination.

Further, as a State Party to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, regarding Islamophobia, France is obliged to, “engage in no act or practice of racial discrimination against persons, groups of persons or institutions and to ensure that all public authorities and public institutions, national and local, shall act in conformity with this obligation”, “not to sponsor, defend or support racial discrimination by any persons or organizations” and “take effective measures to review governmental, national and local policies, and to amend, rescind or nullify any laws and regulations which have the effect of creating or perpetuating racial discrimination wherever it exists.”

Under international law, state neutrality and secularism are not legitimate reasons for imposing restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and religion or belief, including through general bans on religious and cultural symbols. Any restrictions must be justified by demonstrable facts, not presumptions, speculation or prejudice. In October 2023, six UN human rights experts wrote to the French government expressing their concern that the ban violates the right of Muslim women and girls in France to “participate in sporting life” and may “fuel intolerance and discrimination against them.”; in a broader context of systemic discrimination and Islamophobia in France largely documented by scholars and NGOs.

In an open letter published on March 8, 2024, over 80 athletes – including former member of the youth French national team Diaba Konaté, Olympic medalist Ibitihaj Muhammad, and WNBA stars Layshia Clarendon and Breanna Stewart – urged the FFBB and the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) to immediately overturn the FFBB’s hijab ban, in line with FIBA current regulations. The Sport & Rights Alliance partners supported athlete’s calls publicly. Neither the FFBB nor FIBA has responded to this letter.

This feature has been edited from its original publication here.

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