Sports headscarves under fire: Decathlon cedes

Decathlon is back-pedalling: only a few days ago the sports equipment chain wanted to introduce a jogging headscarf for Muslim women in France. But following fierce criticism from politicians and other critics the company announced on Tuesday that it will withdraw the product - after initially defending it. French commentators are embarrassed that the debate has become so emotional.

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Marianne (FR) /

A sign of France's impoverished culture of debate

Marianne editor-in-chief Natascha Polony wishes that the debate could be more open and less emotional:

“Is it not legitimate for part of the population to react in shock when they see an accessory like this, as was already the case with the burkini? That's the real issue we should be discussing. It is alarming that an event like this should trigger such a surge of hatred and racism. It is shocking that Decathlon has withdrawn the product due to concerns about the security of its staff. And the sole consequence of the hideous idiocies pouring out of social media is that anyone who is opposed to the growing use of the headscarf is branded a disgusting racist. Wonderful.”

Slate (FR) /

Sporty, hip, and devout? Impossible!

Clearly the sight of an athlete wearing a headscarf is just too much for the French, Claude Askolovitch observes in Slate:

“A headscarf worn by a cleaning lady doesn't call the bourgeoise world order into question, nor one worn by a mother. ... But Decathlon's jogging hijab is more than just a simple headscarf. It is perceived as an aggression by even the most affable of citizens. ... It is the headscarf of a women who hones her body into an object of desire for the conditioned man, healthy and toned. A woman who covers her hair but is otherwise modern and trendy, sweaty but cheerful and hip. Well you see that just won't do. A woman who wears a headscarf can't be cool. A devout woman who hides her hair can't be cool. The headscarf can't be cool.”

La Libre Belgique (BE) /

An insult to secularism

Once again France is showing its intolerant face, author Ikram Ben Aissa writes in La Libre Belgique:

“This is about more than just differing views and the beloved freedom of expression. It's about threats on the social networks - to the Decathlon brand and its employees: expressions of intolerance and hatred. Even the minister 'of health and solidarity' wrote that she would have 'found it preferable for a French brand not to promote the veil.' Is this an appropriate remark for a minister? ... France is once again insulting secularism and making a fool of itself regarding the respect for human rights and freedoms!”

De Morgen (BE) /

Praised in the US, feared in France

De Morgen isn't surprised by the heated debate about the sport scarf:

“It's a typical French discussion that can't be separated from 'laicité' - the French version of secularism. More than in other Western countries, religious clothing is seen as running counter to Republican values. It's significant that when it brought out the 'Hijab Pro' in 2017, the US firm Nike was praised by all sides. What is seen in the US as a way of making sports more accessible to minorities is seen in France as a direct attack on the nation's norms and values.”