Retailer Decathlon abandons sports hijab launch in France following backlash

Decathlon has halted plans to sell a sports hijab in France.

(CNN)Sporting goods retailer Decathlon has abandoned plans to sell a sports hijab in France, following a backlash from politicians and the public.

Decathlon said Tuesday that it was halting plans to sell the product in the face of "violent debate" and "threats" made against some of the company's employees in its French stores, which a spokesperson noted were "sometimes physical."
The company instead called for "calm and respect."
    The garment, which covers women's hair but not their faces, is already on sale in Decathlon's Moroccan branches, and was due to be rolled out to stores worldwide. The company said it was halting the rollout in France "in the interests of guaranteeing the security of our teammates."
    Decathlon initially defended the garment, saying it was developed "based on the needs expressed" by its female customers in Morocco.
    Decathlon said many women go running in hijabs that are poorly adapted for sport.
    Leading French politicians have voiced concern about the garment, however. Health Minister Agnès Buzyn told French radio station RTL that the running hijab did not "correspond to the values" of France and that it was not a "vision of women" she shared.
    She said that while the hijab is legal in France, equality between men and women is not created "when women hide their faces." She noted that she is firmly in favor of the "emancipation of women" and anything that leads to the differentiation of sexes "disturbs" her.
    The dispute over the garment is the latest in a long line of fractious debates surrounding Islamic clothing in France. Full-face coverings, including the niqab, were banned by then-President Nicolas Sarkozy's government in 2010. Schoolchildren have been banned from wearing veils in state schools since 2004, and public sector employees are not permitted to wear obvious religious symbols.
    Aurore Bergé, spokeswoman for President Emmanuel Macron's party, En Marche, also expressed her opposition to the hijab and said she would boycott brands that don't respect French values.
    "My choice as a woman and as a citizen will be to no longer trust a brand which breaks with our values," she wrote on Twitter. "Those who only tolerate women in public spaces when they are hidden are not lovers of freedom."