French sportswear retailer Decathlon has scrapped plans to sell a hijab for women runners in France following a public outcry.
The firm said it had decided to suspend the product following “a wave of insults” and “unprecedented threats”.
French politicians said the “running hijab” contradicted the country’s secular values, and some lawmakers suggested a boycott of the brand.
Decathlon initially stood by the hijab, which is already for sale in Morocco.
The issues of how Muslim women dress in public has often stoked controversy in France.
“We are making the decision… to not market this product in France at this time,” Decathlon spokesman Xavier Rivoire told RTL radio on Tuesday.
He had earlier told AFP news agency that the initial decision was to “make sport accessible for all women in the world”.
The plain, lightweight headscarf, which covers the hair and not the face, was to go on sale in 49 countries from March.
Sports equipment manufacturer Nike has marketed a sports hijab in France since 2017.
Buckling under pressure
The French-owned company said it had received 500 calls and emails to complain about its “running hijab”, with some of its staff in stores being insulted, and even physically threatened.
Health Minister Agnès Buzyn told RTL that although such a product is not prohibited in France, “it’s a vision of women that I don’t share. I would prefer if a French brand did not promote the headscarf”.
The spokeswoman for President Emmanuel Macron’s La République en Marche party Aurore Bergé also weighed in on the issue on Twitter, suggesting a boycott.
“My choice as a woman and citizen will be to no longer put my trust in a brand that breaks away from our values,” she said.
Replying to Ms Bergé on Twitter, Decathlon said: “Our goal is simple: to offer [women who run with an often unsuitable hijab] an adapted sport product, without judgement.”
Later, the sporting goods giant said it wanted to restore peace after the “violent” reaction “went beyond our desire to meet the needs of our customers”.
France and Islamic clothing
France argues any outward religious symbol, such as the veil, does not maintain the appearance of neutrality required of students and public sector workers under the country’s strict laws for secularism.
The Muslim headscarf is allowed in public spaces in France, but has been banned in state schools and some public buildings since 2004.
In 2016, multiple French regions banned the burkini – a full-body swimsuit – from its beaches. The bans were later ruled illegal by France’s highest court.
These bans led rights groups of accusing France of Islamophobia and stigmatising Muslim women, after already banning full-face coverings in 2010.