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The young woman is wearing a black hoodie fashioned from one of the recognizable smart fabrics popular with sportswear manufacturers. The familiar Nike Swoosh is emblazoned on her chest, and she wears a black “veil” redolent of goal netting over her face. The hoodie is tightly stretched around her head. It’s impossible not to see it as signifying the hijab.
The young woman is Jessica Houara-d’Hommeaux, and she was posing for a Surface Football magazine feature in her native #France. The image was ostensibly to help preview the Women’s World Cup in Canada, now underway, but it also served as a provocative response to a debate in France over the role of Muslim #women in sports — and society.
In 2004 France barred the wearing of all conspicuous religious symbols in grade schools, which was widely seen as a move aimed at its large Muslim minority. In 2010 the country made it illegal for Muslim women to wear face veils in public. The moves have caused huge controversy, including in sport. Though FIFA recently allowed female players to wear an officially sanctioned hijab during games, the French football authorities have barred their players from doing so.
But the French debate is far from unique. Men in sport may be scrutinized for how their appearance and behaviors reflect societal norms, but the world’s #female athletes also face hurdles ranging from economic inequality to entrenched cultural ideas about gender roles. Even the individual national federations charged with developing and supporting women’s soccer are often staffed by officials who are as much an impediment as a support to the players.