The French sports store Decathlon has cancelled a plan to put a sports hijab on the market in France after several politicians, including one from Emmanuel Macron’s centrist party, called for a boycott.
The retailer’s plain, lightweight running headscarf, which covers the hair but not the face, is already on sale in Morocco and was to be extended to France and worldwide. But after a social media storm and outrage from some politicians against Muslim head coverings, the company backtracked and said the garment would not go on sale “at the present time” in France.
Agnès Buzyn, the health minister in Macron’s government, said of the garment: “It’s a vision of women that I don’t share. I would prefer if a French brand did not promote the headscarf.”
Aurore Bergé, from Macron’s centrist party, La République En Marche, tweeted her opposition, saying she would boycott the store which she accused of not respecting French values. She said: “My choice as a woman and citizen will be to no longer trust a brand which breaks with our values.”
Decathlon stood by its product, saying it had received more than 500 calls and emails on the topic on Tuesday, as well as insults and threats towards its staff.
The row was the latest political storm over Muslim women’s dress in France.
In 2010, Nicolas Sarkozy’s right-wing government, banned full-face coverings in France and was accused by rights groups of stigmatising Muslim women.
Schoolgirls have been banned from wearing veils in state schools since 2004 and public sector workers can not wear veils or outward religious symbols at work, because they must be seen as neutral.
The hijab is not banned in public spaces, including sports grounds.
Scores of mayors in French coastal towns issued beach bans on “burkinis” or full-body swimsuits worn by some Muslim women in 2016. Those bans were swiftly ruled illegal by France’s highest administrative court, but there was a heated political row about the French principle of laïcité – secularism built on the strict separation of church and state. Rights groups warned that politicians were twisting and distorting the principle for political gain, and using it to deliberately target Muslims after a series of terrorist attacks.
Fiona Lazaar, an MP from Macron’s centrist party, tweeted that it was a shame that Decathlon had pulled the product, giving in to calls for a boycott and “racist threats and unbridled islamophobia”.