The mayor of Nice has warned that funds will be cut from football teams that allow Muslim players to pray at games. In the latest crackdown on the Islamic religion in the wake of terror attacks and Europe's refugee crisis, right-wing Mayor Christian Estrosi has ordered clubs on the Riviera to obey a new "secularism charter" that forbids mixing religion with the sport, reports the Telegraph.
The charter, based on a centuries-old French law requiring the separation of church and state, was introduced after a dozen incidents of Riviera club players praying on or near the field or in locker rooms since October 2015. At least two players were suspended for two matches for praying, reports BFM TV.
In addition, there was a report that some male Muslim referees had refused to shake the hands of female players because of religious strictures. Club leaders support Estrosi's warning.
"We take the attitude that sports in general and football in particular, as the most popular and universal sport, should not be mixed with religious or political practices," Eric Borghini, head of the Riviera branch of the French Football Federation and an attorney, told BFM.
He added: "I don't want to stop anyone practicing their religion but they should do it in the appropriate place, in temples or mosques or churches, not on a football pitch or in the changing rooms."
But the growing Muslim population of Nice is increasingly angry with Estrosi and his supporters for what they view as blatant discrimination against them. "It's ridiculous, he's being inflammatory for no reason," said a longtime bartender at one of Nice's Irish bars. "Catholic players make the sign of the cross before a game. What happened to religious tolerance? This is not the time to alienate Muslims in Nice."
Mohamed Hasan, 24, who lives in the Ariane neighborhood on the outskirts of Nice warned ominously that the mayor is "playing a dangerous game. He is trying to please some of his constituents but he's making the rest of us mad."
Estrosi has blocked the opening of a new mosque in Nice. Grand Mosque En-Nour, sought by Nice's Muslim leaders for more than 30 years, was shut down just as it was about to open, leaving the faithful to continue to worship in stripped-down, featureless cement buildings.
Estrosi has managed so far to stop the opening with a bid to sue France. He has claimed that the mosque owner owner, Saudi Arabia's Islamic Affairs Minister Sheikh Saleh bin Abdulaziz, advocated Sharia law and would enforce it on the Riviera.
In 2015 Estrosi stopped the marriage of a young Muslim couple, saying he doubted the sincerity of the union and that the would-be bride had "engaged in amplified radicalisation in recent months."
Estrosi's actions echo sharp anti-Islam crackdowns elsewhere in Europe. Germany's right-wing anti-immigrant party Alternative für Deutschland just passed a political platform manifesto calling for banning minarets, Muslim calls to prayer and full-face veils.