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Sports giant Decathlon walks back plans to sell 'hijab for running' in France after backlash

Sports giant Decathlon walks back plans to sell 'hijab for running' in France after backlash
French-based sporting goods giant Decathlon was forced to backtrack on plans to start selling a head-covering garment made for sports-loving Muslim women in France amid an avalanche of threats and boycott calls.

The retailer announced on Tuesday it would put on hold its plans to launch the veil, suitable for running and other sport activities, in France, after the plain looking garment attracted widespread controversy before it could even be put on the shelves. The company said it has been bombarded with an unprecedented number of complaints, receiving around 500 calls and emails. The outrage spilled over into physical stores, with some of its staff being threatened and insulted, it said.

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By adding the hijab to its line of sportswear in France, Decathlon hoped to build on the success it had in Morocco, where the garment's sales are booming.

"The craze for the product (in Morocco) made us ask whether to make it available" in other countries, Decathlon official Xavier Rivoire told RTL on Tuesday. Sales of the hijab, which comes in white and black, were set to kick off in France, as well as worldwide, in March. Decathlon has over 1,500 stores in 49 countries.

READ MORE: Hijab-wearing ‘Ice Princess’ set for University Games in Russia

While Decathlon would not have been the pioneer in offering a hijab for active Muslim women, the move did not sit well with many French politicians, who denounced the brand for trampling on the nation's secularist values. Aurora Berge, spokeswoman for President Emmanuel Macron's La République en Marche party, tweeted that her choice "as a woman and citizen" would be to no longer "put my trust in a brand that breaks away from our values."

READ MORE: ‘Symbol of oppression’: Swedish swimming chief steps down after criticizing Muslim headscarf

She argued that Decathlon is giving a nod to "those who tolerate women in public space only if they hide themselves."

Leader of right-wing Debout la France party Nicolas Dupont-Aignan went as far as calling for a boycott on Decathlon for its promotion of traditional Muslim attire.

"I've got two daughters who don't want to live in a country where women's place in society regresses in the same way as in Saudi Arabia," he tweeted.

While many were incensed over the French retailer's choice to market the hijab in the first place, some have argued that by venting outrage at the garment, French secularist society is fanning Islamophobia.

Islamic garments have been at the center of fierce public debate in France for the past several years. In the wake of the 2015 European refugee and migrant crisis, over 30 French towns introduced bans on the burkini, a full-body swimsuit. Since then, many of the bans were overturned as violating the constitution.

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