Decathlon had previously announced the imminent sale of the hijab, made of sports-style fabric by the brand Kalenji, and designed to allow Muslim women to cover their hair while running or taking part in sports.
The product was originally designed for - and sold in - Morocco, but was due to be rolled out across France in the coming weeks. Decathlon had said it had been thoroughly tested by “women who regularly wear the hijab and who run, jog or trail run. It has been proven for its comfort and breathability”.
But the brand took to Twitter this week to announce that it was “suspending the sale” of the product in France “in the face of threats” made to its staff.
A statement posted online said: “Our customer service team has received more than 500 calls and emails this morning. Our store teams have been insulted and threatened, sometimes physically. Since this morning, we have been facing an unprecedented wave of insults.”
Suite à de nombreux débats internes, et pour garantir la sécurité de nos collaborateurs en France : pic.twitter.com/0IePfSUkm9— Decathlon (@Decathlon) February 26, 2019
The brand then posted some screenshots of the types of messages it had received.
One message accused Decathlon of “betraying the values of the French Republic and contributing to the Islamist invasion” that should be punished by a visit to “the ovens in Poland”.
Another asked if Decathlon would “be selling explosive vests next”, while one said it was “scandalous that this shop has become a sponsor of women’s servitude” and “female humiliation”, and asked: “Will you be selling a game about stoning women too?”.
The Decathlon official Twitter account added: “We remain at your service across our network to respond to your questions on our sports products, as we do everyday.
“But it is time to call for calm on this issue: insults and threats have no place. We ask you to stay respectful in your messages with our teams.”
In a statement, Decathlon United external communication manager Xavier Rivoire, said: “We have made the decision to not sell this product at this time in France.”
The controversy has drawn comment from politicians too.
The French minister for sport, Roxana Maracineanu, stopped short of directly supporting or criticising Decathlon yesterday, but she appeared to implicitly agree with Decathlon’s position.
She said: “On the subject of secularism....My role is to promote sport for everyone, in a spirit of progress, inclusion, respect for others, and diversity...Let us have respect for the Republic as our only compass.
“I want to find women - mothers, young girls everywhere wherever they are or however they are - and encourage them to practice sport, because I am convinced that it is a lever for emancipation.”
But Valérie Boyer, MP for the Bouches-du-Rhône, said she was “disgusted” and “revolted to see that this French company has made the choice to prolong sexual apartheid imposed on women in the public space”.
Valérie Rabaut, MP for the Tarn, even suggested a boycott of Decathlon.
Some Twitter users accused critics of the hijab of hypocrisy, asking why a full-cover balaclava for skiing - also made of similar sports fabric and sold by Decathlon - was deemed acceptable, while a covering for hair was not.
France is sometimes well out of whack. Skiing balaclava that completely covers your face -- fine. Running hijab so that Muslim women can cover their hair while exercising -- no way. Both available in Decathlon pic.twitter.com/shsc1KZ50m— Luke Baker (@BakerLuke) February 27, 2019
Decathlon itself said the product was nothing to do with “Islamism” or “denying French values”.
Responding to criticism on Twitter, it said: “We are not renouncing any of our values. We have always done everything we can to make sport more accessible, all over the world. This hijab was needed by some runners, and we were therefore replying to this sporting need.
“We want every woman to be able to run in every neighbourhood, in every city, in every country, irrespective of their sporting level, their fitness levels, their body shape, or their budget. And, irrespective of their culture.”
Decathlon is not the only sports brand to have made a running hijab available in France; Nike also sells one, in three colours - black, grey and white - at a cost of €30 each (photo, above).
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