Decathlon backtracks on controversial decision to sell sport hijabs in France

Translated by
Nicola Mira
today Feb 27, 2019
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On Tuesday, French sport retailer Decathlon announced it will not be selling sport hijabs in France, after a day of heated debate in the country about the right to wear such a garment in public.

“As of this Tuesday evening, we are taking an effective, fully responsible decision not to sell this product in France for the time being,” said Xavier Rivoire, Decathlon’s director of communication, speaking on French radio channel RTL.

Earlier on Tuesday, Rivoire said [Decathlon] “fully embraces the decision of making sport accessible for all women worldwide.” Decathlon’s sport hijabs, already on sale in Morocco, were slated to become available in Decathlon's French stores within the next few weeks.

“The product’s success led us to consider making it available” outside Morocco, said Rivoire, underlining that “this head-cover leaves the face completely unobstructed and visible.”

Angélique Thibault, in charge of running products for Kalenji, Decathlon's running brand, who developed the Kalenji Hijab, said she is “driven by the desire of enabling each and every woman to run in every neighbourhood, every city and every country, whatever her sporting ability, her fitness, morphology and budget is. And whatever her cultural affiliations are.”

“Decathlon’s absolute objective is to make sport accessible to all. We have given Moroccan women an opportunity of emancipation through active sport and the practice of physical activity,” added Rivoire, speaking on RTL.

A heated debate

Nevertheless, the announcement that Decathlon would sell sport hijabs aroused heated debate in France on Tuesday.

Such products aren’t “prohibited by law,” said the Minister of Health, Agnès Buzyn, speaking on RTL, but they reflect “a vision of women I do not share. I would have preferred for a French brand not to promote veils.”

According to Aurore Bergé, spokesperson for La République En Marche [a centrist, liberal French political party], “sport emancipates, it does not subjugate. My decision as a woman and citizen is to no longer trust a brand which is at odds with our values. Those who tolerate the public presence of women only if they hide themselves, they do not love freedom.”

Valérie Rabault, president of the Socialist party’s parliamentary group in France’s National Assembly, asked on Twitter to “boycott” Decathlon, and so did Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, president of the Debout La France party.

This is “yet another controversy aimed at preventing veil-wearing women from leading a normal life,” the feminist association Les Effrontées in a press release, which condemned the “racist climate.”

Nike currently sells sport hijabs in France in the colours black, grey and white, priced at €30 each.

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