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  • The company pulled the sports hijab from stores in France. 

    The company pulled the sports hijab from stores in France.  | Photo: Reuters file

Published 27 February 2019

On Tuesday, Decathlon official Xavier Rivoire announced Decathlon's plans to hold off on selling the garment at its stores in France after criticism and calls for boycott. 

Athletic retailer Decathlon has postponed plans to sell a sports hijab at its stores in France after receiving hundreds of complaints, and several politicians criticizing the brand and calling for a boycott.

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The company said it received about 500 calls and emails in relation to the garment, as well as employees being insulted and threatened at physical store locations. 

The athletic hijab enjoys significant sales and is very successful at the company's stores in Morocco. The garment was initially meant to meet "a requirement of certain runners" by covering the hair and leaving room for the face.

According to Decathlon official Xavier Rivoire, "the craze for the product (in Morocco) made us ask whether to make it available" in other company locations, which total to 1,500 stores in 49 countries. However, due to pressure, Rivoire announced Decathlon's plans to hold off on selling the garment at its stores in France for now. 

The creator of Decathlon's Kalenji running brand, Angelique Thibault was "motivated by the desire that every woman should be able to run in every neighborhood, every city, every country ... regardless of her culture."

Despite the message of inclusivity and empowerment for women, many French right-wing leaders, including a spokeswoman for President Emmanuel Macron's Republic on the Move (LREM) party, were perturbed by the company supposedly infringing on the country's secularist values.

LREM's Aurore Berge claims the running hijab encourages "those who tolerate women in a public space only when they hide themselves." 

Debout la France party leader Nicolas Dupont-Aignan remarked that the promotion of the traditional Muslim hijab would make France "a country where women's place in society regresses in the same way as in Saudi Arabia."

But, supporters of the hijab commended the company for the design, saying it encourages Muslim women to stay active and feel empowered. A sports hijab has already been developed by Nike, and has been worn by numerous Muslim Olympic athletes.

France has a history of controversy surrounding traditional Muslim attire and adaptations meant to accommodate the community.

In 2010, former President Nicolas Sarkozy's government banned the niqab, which covers the face and leaves room for the eyes only.

In 2014, hijabs were banned from schools and government buildings.

In 2016, some French mayors attempted to ban the burkini, a full-body swimsuit for Muslim women, claiming it to be a symbol of female enslavement. The burkini ban was deemed illegal and unconstitutional.

“A shame that @Decathlon pulled the product, giving in to calls for a boycott and racist threats and unbridled islamophobia. One is entitled to be against the veil, but never to threaten anyone who wears it, wants to wear it or in this case, simply, to market it. @RTLFrance”
 

A member of parliament from Macron's LREM party, Fiona Lazaar, tweeted her disappointment in the company's move to pull the product. Rights groups have called out the distortion of feminism that targets and stigmatizes Muslims, especially Muslim women, after the country experienced a series of terrorist attacks. 

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