France's gender equality minister Élisabeth Moreno on Thursday threw her support behind Muslim women soccer players who are seeking to overturn a ban on players wearing headscarves on the pitch, AFP reports.
Rules set by the French Soccer Federation currently prevent players taking part in competitive matches from wearing "ostentatious" religious symbols such as Muslim headscarves or a kippah.
A women's collective known as "les Hijabeuses" has launched a legal challenge to the rules in November last year, claiming they were discriminatory and infringed their right to practice their religion.
"The law says that these young women can wear a headscarf and play football. On football pitches today, headscarves are not forbidden. I want the law to be respected," Equality Minister Elisabeth Moreno was quoted as having told LCI television.
"In public space, women can dress as they like," she added. "My fight is to protect those that are forced to wear the veil."
The French Senate last month voted in favor of banning the wearing of headscarves in sports competitions, arguing that neutrality is a requirement on the field of play.
However, the move was rejected in the lower house on Wednesday.
France's laws on secularism guarantee religious freedom to all citizens, and contain no provisions on banning the wearing of religious symbols in public spaces, with the exception of full-face coverings which were outlawed in 2010.
In 2011, France outlawed the wearing of the Muslim niqab (full face veil) - part of the burqa, or full body covering worn by Muslim women - in public, citing security concerns as the reason for the ban. Women who wear the veil face a 150 euro ($190) fine.
A parliamentary committee in Belgium also voted to ban the burqa. Italy has drafted a similar law.