IOC allows Paris Olympics participants to wear hijabs at athletes’ village

French athletes are still subject to a headscarf ban as their sports federation restricts the hijab during the games.

The logo of the Paris 2024 Organizing Committee, is pictured at the headquarters in Saint Denis, outside Paris.
France is the only European country that excludes hijab-wearing athletes from most domestic sports [File: Francois Mori/AP Photo]

The International Olympic Committee has ruled that participants in the Paris 2024 Olympic Games are free to wear a headscarf known as a hijab in the athletes’ village, just days after France’s sports minister barred it for the host country’s athletes.

Although the IOC on Friday removed hijab restrictions in the athletes’ village, French athletes are still subject to the rules of their sports federation and are not allowed to wear hijabs during the games.

A spokesperson for the Olympic body said it was in contact with the French Olympic Committee (CNOSF) to better understand the situation with the French athletes.

“For the Olympic Village, the IOC rules apply,” an IOC spokesperson said to Reuters news agency. “There are no restrictions on wearing the hijab or any other religious or cultural attire.”

The Olympic Village becomes home to most of the 10,000 athletes who attend Olympic Games, where they share common spaces such as dining halls and recreational facilities.

The sports competitions at the Olympics are organised and overseen by the individual international sports federations.

On Sunday, French Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera announced that the country’s athletes would be barred from wearing hijabs during the Paris Games to respect principles of secularism.

She told France 3 television that the government was opposed to the display of religious symbols during sporting events to ensure “absolute neutrality in public services”.

Strict secularism

France has protected its strict form of secularism with laws that have cracked down on its Muslim community.

In August, France announced that it was banning the abaya in schools. Dozens of girls were also sent home when they wore it to school.

In January last year, French senators voted to ban hijabs in sports competitions and in July this year, a top French court upheld a hijab ban during football competitions.

Hijab-wearing French footballers have been fighting for inclusivity on the pitch through a collective called “Les Hijabeuses.”

Despite being home to one of Europe’s largest Muslim minorities, France is the only country on the continent that excludes hijab-wearing athletes in most domestic sports competitions.

Muslim associations and human rights groups have alleged that France has chipped away at democratic protections and left Muslims vulnerable to abuse with such laws.

The United Nations human rights office also criticised the French decision to bar its athletes from wearing hijabs.

“No one should impose on a woman what she needs to wear or not wear,” United Nations rights office spokesperson Marta Hurtado told reporters in Geneva on Tuesday.

In 2016, Ibtihaj Muhammad made history by becoming the first United States team member to compete in the Olympics while wearing a hijab.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies