• France's news in English
France gets tough on Muslim footballers praying on pitch
Archive photo of Muslims praying on a sports pitch in France. Photo: AFP

France gets tough on Muslim footballers praying on pitch

The Local · 29 Apr 2016, 12:45

Published: 29 Apr 2016 12:45 GMT+02:00
Updated: 29 Apr 2016 12:45 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

France's latest battle to ensure the principles of secularism are being upheld is taking place on the football pitches of the Riviera city of Nice.

In a city where the right wing mayor Christian Estrosi is fighting to prevent a new mosque from opening, authorities are also trying to ensure that Muslims do not bring their religious beliefs anywhere near the municipal football pitches.

They have taken teams to task for beaching a new "secularism charter" that players and clubs are required to adhere to.

Ten breaches of the charter have been reported since last October, according to a report in BFM TV. Most of the incidents consisted of Muslim players praying either on or close to the field, before or during a match.

For example, on March 19th, some footballers asked to go into a referee’s dressing room to pray, whereas previous incidents included pausing from a team workout to pray.

“We noticed that people were praying in the changing rooms, on the football fields, and sometimes, other inappropriate behavior such as players who refused to shake hands with the female delegates of the football federation," Eric Borghini (see photo) President of the French Football Federation in the Côte d'Azur region told The Local.

(Eric Borghini. Photo: BFM TV Screengrab.)

"There were even referees who refused to shake hands with female players.”

“So that forced us to react because it doesn’t conform to the French republican spirit of secularism," Borghini said. "When something is forbidden, we don’t do it. When you have a red light, you stop at the red light. It’s the law.

"We consider that sports in general and football in particular, the most popular and universal sport, should not be mixed with religious or political practices.

"On the contrary, it should be a moment of brotherhood, a moment where we should forget all the issues that divide people," said Borghini.

"I don’t want to prevent people from practicing the religion they want, but in an appropriate setting, in temples and mosques and churches, and not on a football pitch or in the changing rooms."

"They’re not hurting human beings, but they are hurting the principles of the French Republic," he added.

Borghini told The Local the issue of players praying on the pitch or in changing rooms has only arisen in recent years. 

(A list of incidents when the secularism charter has been breached. Photo: BFM TV)

Nice's secularism charter calls for “respect for the values of the Republic” and consists of four rules which clubs must abide by, not just regarding religion.

The principle of neutrality of buildings is one rule, while the other three are: gender equality, freedom of conscience and worship and the equality of all before the law, regardless of beliefs.

Nice mayor Estrosi warns that if players are found to be breaking any of these rules, their club may be hit by sanctions in the form of a reduction or even complete cancellation of subsidies.

One club has already been reprimanded for failure to comply with the charter; players received a two-match suspension for praying on the pitch.

Football chiefs admit that other players don't mind the praying because "they are all friends".

One player told BFM TV: "It doesn't shock me if someone prays at half-time. if they are in their own place and not disturbing anyone, then it doesn't bother me." 

Many will wonder whether the charter was really necessary and will see it as the mayor's latest attempt to stigmatize Muslims.

(Mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi. AFP)

Estrosi has a history of "sticking his nose in the affairs of the Muslim faith", whether it's his battle to prevent the city's new mosque from opening or banning the waving of foreign flags, namely Algerian, during the last World Cup.

France has a long-established secular tradition that has its roots in the anti-clericalism of the French Revolution and a 1905 law enforcing a strict separation between church and state.

But in recent years French politicians, both on the left and the right, have in the past been accused of using the country's principle of laicité as a cover for trying to limit the influence of the Muslim faith. It is often referred to by the term "militant secularism".

Story continues below…

Mayors have refused to offer alternative school meals when pork is on the menu, while even the country's famed veil laws introduced in 2004 and 2010 on the grounds of secularism and then security were deemed by many Muslims to be an attack on their faith.

Muslim mothers were also barred from accompanying their children on school trips if they wore the headscarf.

Last year the country's Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem warned against the rise of militant secularism

"In recent years, we have reached levels of unwarranted tension, which go a long way in explaining the misunderstanding surrounding the notion of secularity, and the reason why some young people don't associate with it," Vallaud-Belkacem said.

But football chiefs on the Côte d'Azur say the current political climate means it's more important than ever to reinforce the values of the French Republic.

"Radicalization isn’t something that often happens on a football field, but there’s a true risk that these lapses could encourage radicalization," said Borghini.

by Katie Warren/Catherine Edwards/Ben McPartland


Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
France given wake up call as it bids for Brexit business
The business district 'La Defense' in Paris. Photo: AFP

France clearly has some work to do if it really wants to pinch business from the UK post-Brexit.

Mouth fun? French words you just can't translate literally
Do you know the French word for throat-support? Photo: AFP

Word of warning: Don't translate French literally.

How France plans to help its stressed-out police force
Yellow smoke rises around French police officers in Paris holding a banner reading "Solidarity with our colleagues, police angry". All photos: AFP

Could these measures stop the cops from protesting?

'3,000 migrants dispersed' after 'Jungle' clearance
Photo: AFP

While thousands of migrants have been bussed out around France, new ones are arriving all the time and thousands of others have simply been dispersed aid agencies say.

Fifteen of the most bizarre laws in France
Photo: Matthew Powell/Flickr

A must read for anyone who wants to stay on the right side of the law in France.

Medieval town in south of France upholds ban on UFOs
The town of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Photo: Aa77zz/Flickr

Aliens take note.

American tourist dies at French Riviera sex club
The Riviera resort of Cannes. Photo: AFP

American tourist reportedly fell five floors after being pushed outside the underground sex club in Cannes.

Paris: 'Flying' water taxis to be tested on River Seine
Photo: SeaBubbles

An in Seine idea surely? But tests will go ahead.

France joins fight for rich pickings from post-Brexit UK
Photo: AFP/DcnH/Flickr

France tries to woo EU's bank regulator and other agencies.

How speaking French can really mess up your English
Photo: CollegeDegree360/Flickr

So you've mastered French, but now it's time to learn English all over again.

The annoying questions only a half French, half Brit can answer
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Forget Brangelina's chateau - here are nine others you've got to see
The must-see French films of the millennium - Part One
How life for expats in France has changed over the years
Why Toulouse is THE place to be in France right now
Video: New homage to Paris shows the 'real side' of city
The 'most dangerous' animals you can find in France
Swap London fogs for Paris frogs: France woos the Brits
Anger after presenter kisses woman's breasts on live TV
Is France finally set for a cold winter this year?
IN PICS: The story of the 'ghost Metro stations' of Paris
How to make France's 'most-loved' dish: Magret de Canard
Welcome to the flipside: 'I'm not living the dream in France'
Do the French really still eat frogs' legs?
French 'delicacies' foreigners really find hard to stomach
French are the 'world's most pessimistic' about the future
Why the French should not be gloomy about the future
This is the most useful French lesson you will ever have. How to get angry
Why is there a giant clitoris in a field in southern France?
French pastry wars: Pain au chocolat versus chocolatine
Countdown: The ten dishes the French love the most
Expats or immigrants in France: Is there a difference?
How the French reinvented dozens of English words
jobs available