French sports goods chain Decathlon has cancelled plans to sell a sports version of the Muslim headscarf in France after politicians, including a minister, threatened a boycott.
Xavier Rivoire, Decathlon’s head of communications, told the RTL broadcaster on Tuesday that the decision was taken “to ensure the safety and security of our own teams”.
The company had earlier written on Twitter that it had suffered an “unprecedented wave of insults and threats” over the product.
Decathlon initially responded by saying that the hijab was “a requirement of certain runners, and we are therefore responding to this sporting requirement”.
But later Rivoire told RTL: “We are effectively taking the decision to not sell this product in France for now.”
Decathlon already sells the runner’s hijab in its stores in Morocco, and had planned to introduce the garment to France in the coming weeks.
“The craze for the product [in Morocco] made us ask whether to make it available” in other countries too, said Rivoire, adding the garment “leaves the face free and visible”.
Angelique Thibault, who created the garment for Decathlon’s Kalenji running brand, said she was “motivated by the desire that every woman should be able to run in every neighbourhood, every city, every country … regardless of her culture”.
Reports that Decathlon would introduce the sports hijab to France, however, raised public ire.
Such a product is “not forbidden by law”, Health Minister Agnes Buzyn responded on RTL, but “it is a vision of women that I do not share. I would have preferred that a French brand not promote the veil.”
Aurore Berge, spokeswoman for President Emmanuel Macron‘s Republic on the Move (LREM) party, said that “sport emancipates, it does not suppress”, lambasting “those who tolerate women in a public space only when they hide themselves”.
Several political leaders called for a boycott over the issue.
Criticism of the reaction to the product came from a deputy in Macron’s party.
“This obsession with the veil and Islam, lodged in the republican unconscious, is a French exceptionalism that we could well do without,” Aurelien Tache wrote on Twitter.
The controversy is the latest in France over face and body-covering garments worn by Muslim women which many in the secular country perceive as instruments of women’s subjugation.
Others argue that they allow Muslim women to be an active part of broader society.
France in 2004 banished the hijab, which covers the hair but leaves the face open, from the classroom and government offices, but it is a common sight in the streets.
In 2016, the country with Europe’s largest Muslim population was deeply divided over the appearance on beaches of the body-concealing “burkini” swimsuit.