Running While Veiled

Earlier this week the French sportswear company Décathlon caused an uproar by announcing its release of a garment designed for the use of female Muslim runners. Dubbed the “running hijab”, the suit resembles a “burkini”, the full-body bathing suit worn by some Muslimas. The blowback for Décathlon was so intense that it withdrew its new product before it went on sale.

Zineb el-Rhazoui is a French writer and a former staff member of Charlie Hebdo She was born in Morocco and apostatized from Islam in her youth. At the time of the jihad attack in 2015 she was visiting Morocco, and thus escaped death.

In the following video Ms. El-Rhazoui takes part in a panel discussion about the running hijab on French TV. Her principal interlocutor is Aurélien Taché, a member of the National Assembly for President Macron’s party.

Many thanks to Ava Lon for the translation, and to Vlad Tepes for the subtitling:

Below are excerpts from a report on the Décathlon controversy by the BBC:

Decathlon cancels sports hijab sale in France

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.


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”.

Video transcript:

00:00   We lived through very intensive 24 hours, 24 hours of polemic, of confrontation,
00:04   sometimes even insults. And it all started with a tweet,
00:08   a simple tweet , posted on the internet by the spokesperson of the
00:12   party The Republicans, Lydia Guirous. Hell broke loose on social media.
00:16   Almost all of the political representatives condemned unreservedly
00:20   the Décathlon brand; and Décathlon ended up surrendering on Tuesday evening
00:24   by deciding NOT to put this Runner Hijab on the market, even though
00:28   nothing in the law forbids either selling it nor wearing it.
00:32   Aurélien Taché, you expressed an opinion that was dissonant compared
00:37   with the entirety of French political representatives.
00:41   Explain for us how we got there, and why this position
00:45   against the flow. —Well, how we got there? I don’t know if I can pretend
00:49   being able to explain it all by myself, but, anyway, what I’ve noticed, is that, truly,
00:53   there was this commercialization [of the runner hijab] by Décathlon, which earned a number
00:57   of strong reactions, among which… which caused
01:01   the answer from Décathlon, which said: ‘Look, we aren’t making a moral judgment.
01:05   We just want to democratize a type of sport, voilà, it’s the simple…
01:09   it’s really just for that reason that we put this hijab on the market in France.’ And I found
01:13   that this reaction was rather healthy and normal, and I don’t really understand why,
01:17   again, why in France… —So at the beginning you wanted to defend the position of Décathlon,
01:21   which had nothing illegal in it? —I think, I understand the position of Décathlon, saying:
01:24   ‘We are putting this garment on the market to democratize a type of sport.’
01:27   And I don’t understand, well, why in France it causes such an OUTCRY. Well, no, I DO understand.
01:34   Because every time that we talk about Islam or of the veil in France it causes a debate
01:37   that is totally passionate, to put it politely, and after some time
01:42   it becomes a little embarrassing for the immense majority of our Muslim fellow citizens and also
01:46   for our female Muslim fellow citizens, who made the choice to wear the veil — not all do that,
01:49   but some do — that every time we talk about their religious practice,
01:52   it causes such a debate in France, it’s something I cannot understand and accept.
01:55   Zineb El Rhazoui, this Tuesday, you on the other hand called for
01:58   boycotting the Décathlon brand. What was the problem for you?
02:02   First of all, I would like to say that the Décathlon brand made a wise decision by not putting
02:06   this product on the market, because the hijab isn’t
02:10   a sports product. It’s a RELIGIOUS product. And selling this product
02:15   surely isn’t, surely does not have a place
02:19   in a sports store, but rather in a store with religious products.
02:23   Of religious gewgaws, of I don’t know, of kippahs, of prayer beads, of holy water, voilà.
02:27   It’s not a sport product, since it’s a product
02:31   which, by definition, by essence, violates the spirit of sport,
02:35   violates the spirit of the Olympic Charter. I remind you that there is a
02:39   fight today that is being fought by universalist feminists
02:43   to demand respect for the Olympic Charter by the countries that violate it, like Iran
02:47   and like Saudi Arabia, that breach article 50, second paragraph, that says:
02:52   “No propaganda, political, religious,
02:56   or racial is authorized in an Olympic place, site or location.”
03:00   So you might tell me that Décathlon isn’t one of them… —No! —but what are the values
03:04   that the brand Décathlon has to promote? Are those the values
03:08   of sport, or are those religious, communitarist and SEXIST values?
03:12   It’s mostly that which has to be reminded of… —So, we will take time to untangle all those
03:16   questions, precisely about the Olympic Games, look simply at, for example, what went on
03:20   in Rio two years ago. And when you see for example a number of
03:24   athletes, an Egyptian [female] who was playing beach volleyball,
03:29   Doaa Elghobashy, who was veiled, Ibtihaj Muhammad, who is American and who
03:33   practiced fencing, and Rahma Ben Ali, who is Tunisian, and who was
03:37   an athlete defending the colors of her country in Tae Kwon Do.
03:41   It’s rather, really. It means it does exist.
03:45   It’s a breach of the Olympic Charter, of — I repeat — article 50, second paragraph
03:48   of the Olympic Charter that I just read, and above all
03:53   It contradicts the spirit, with the sensation of sport.
03:57   Why WOMEN would be deprived of the sensation of sport
04:02   under the pretext that their hair or their body arouses the gentlemen?
04:06   And today, when you see the sport federations and the Olympic Committee
04:10   authorizing this type of sexist, ridiculous garment, which wants to erase
04:14   the female body, in reality it hurts the athletes; for example
04:18   the female Tunisian champion of the 3,000 meter steeple in 2012,
04:22   was lynched in Tunisia, because she wasn’t covered.
04:26   A reminder of facts is very simple: since you’re writing,
04:30   you vote for laws as deputy, the law is simple, it is very clear in France:
04:34   religious signs are forbidden at school; a government worker cannot wear them
04:38   in public administration. Nothing forbids a woman to wear
04:43   a veil to go to practice her running, that’s clear. —The magazine Marianne
04:47   reports that Décathlon was already selling a very similar product.
04:51   It wasn’t called “running hijab”, but: “multi-function running bandeau.”
04:55   And basically it was the name that changed the nature
04:59   of its perception? —Of course it was its name. But in order
05:03   to go back to what was said about the Olympic Games and about the practice
05:07   of wearing the veil in different countries and that some athletes wear it.
05:11   The only question that I ask myself is whether it’s imposed on women or not. When in Iran
05:16   the veil is imposed on women in a coercive way, of course we have to fight against it.
05:20   Of course it’s shocking and scandalous that women be forced, either for…
05:24   not only to go on the street, but also to participate at the sport events, to participate at the
05:28   Olympic Games. Wearing the veil is imposed on them by their country. Of course I’m against it.
05:32   But in France we don’t have this type of situation at all. In France we have freedom of wearing
05:36   or not wearing, and besides I think that the value judgments that are made — you used the phrase
05:40   “religious gewgaw” and so on — fine. But WHO AM I TO JUDGE if such-and-such of
05:44   my female fellow-citizens should believe in God or not, how she is practicing her faith with a veil
05:49   or not; I reckon that it’s not my role, and I reckon that when you live in a free democratic society,
05:52   you shouldn’t make this type of moral/value judgment, and what happened with the recall
05:57   of the Décathlon is significant. It’s because of the word HIJAB. Of course it’s the word hijab.
06:00   There is this type of, again, debate that catches fire right away as soon as you start talking
06:05   about Islam or Muslim practices in France. And that makes you ask questions. —But it’s interesting…
06:09   —It makes you ask questions. Much bigger questions. We can discuss women’s rights, but it also causes,
06:13   of course, it’s an extremely important, essential subject, but the rights of those who believe,
06:17   also in France, or who don’t believe, but of those who believe, also, yes, and who are Muslims,
06:21   we could also discuss them, because there is clearly a subject there! —Zineb El Rhazoui,
06:24   a woman who wears this garment, or another, a veil, there are two ways of looking at the thing.
06:29   For you it’s submission, submission
06:33   by the woman, and others might say: it’s individual freedom. She’s wearing this veil
06:37   because it’s her choice, and she is the one who can decide about it. How do we settle the argument?
06:41   I think that many women make the choice of wearing
06:46   this garment. They aren’t necessarily forced
06:50   by coercion to wear it. I simply think that
06:54   this garment that has been proliferating for the last couple of decades
06:58   in Muslim countries, well it [this garment] reveals a sexist militancy that hides behind it.
07:02   I would like to ask a question of Mr. Taché, and here it’s a female citizen
07:06   who is asking a question of a representative: what do you think about the veiling of little girls,
07:11   for example of 11-12 years of age? —We won’t have a veil debate, Zineb El Rhazoui.
07:15   You ask me again to make a value judgment concerning French families. You think that I —
07:19   — as a representative I have to —I would like you to answer sincerely. —No, yes, I’ll answer you,
07:22   I’ll answer you. You think that I… I make the law and not the morals. If you think that the laws
07:27   should be expression of moral judgment and that I should have an opinion
07:31   on the way — under the condition, of course, that children aren’t mistreated — on the way
07:35   under the condition that the law be respected, under the condition, that is about the law, but the
07:39   moral judgments on a family raising their children in a religious way or not — I cannot make them.
07:43   But you have no judgment about the fact that a little girl, 12 years old, is wearing
07:46   a veil? As a political representative I think I shouldn’t make this type of judgment.
07:49   You’re telling me about… I can have a personal opinion —However,
07:52   you DO have one. Yes, this opinion interests me. —Yes, but no, but it’s not the subject.
07:56   I am an MP, and you’re not talking about my own children; you’re not talking about a little girl
07:59   I’ll be raising. —So you have an opinion, do you want… —Not at the same time. Listen to each other.
08:02   Those are children being raised by others, and I… and you were telling me about that little
08:05   12-year-old girl who was wearing a veil and who was raised in a Muslim family.
08:08   Would you ask me a question about a Catholic family, about a girl to whom
08:11   they put [unintelligible]? Of course not. —I can see you’re avoiding the question.
08:14   You’re hurrying to help veiled grown-ups. —You want to make me,
08:18   but you won’t succeed, Madame. You won’t succeed. The law isn’t there to impose morals.
08:21   And MPs aren’t there to impose morals. —I would like to answer you. —Listen to one another.
08:25   —Just one word, Zineb El Rhazoui. We will go back to what happened on Tuesday. It’s interesting,
08:29   of course, you will answer him, and first of all we will stay on this question, because we won’t
08:33   have a debate on Islam in general, or on the veil in general, but it’s interesting
08:37   to see the accusations that were brought up on Tuesday. —Yes, because we understand that all that
08:41   isn’t red and black [allusion to Stendhal’s ‘The Red and the Black’] and there are many nuances
08:44   in all that you can have as opinion and judgment. From this, two types of accusations emerge:
08:49   those who are accused of Islamo-Leftism, that’s in your case, Aurélien Taché,
08:54   the magazine Valeurs Actuelles calls you a new figure of pro-,
08:58   of Islamo-Leftism, and then those who are being accused of Islamophobia.
09:02   That’s your case, Zineb El Rhazoui. It’s either one or the other; we’re under the impression
09:06   that it’s impossible to send a message slightly more complex.
09:10   Anyway one would think that the dialogue is impossible between people. Voilà.

7 thoughts on “Running While Veiled

  1. I don’t know why people should be upset about this. about twenty years ago a muslim girl here in new jersey use to run cross country in one. I guess that was before the islamophobia epidemic.

    • “islamophobia epidemic.”

      Fear? That ridiculous argument again.

      We simply do not want our nations to normalise the wearing of the hijab and burka. They are far more than a simple piece of clothing.

  2. Memo to Decathlon:

    The hijab is a garment that is REQUIRED by Mohammedan men, the OWNERS of the women. A woman who disobeys her master brings shame and dishonor to him.

    Pause to think of Aqsa Parvez, 16, of Ontario. She was a teenager who wanted to be like Canadian teenagers. She did not want the hijab, and took it off after having the house. When her father and brother found out they strangled her to death with it.

    In Islam retaliation, the punishment for murder, is “obligatory against anyone who kills”.
    “The following are not subject to retaliation:
    a father or mother… for killing their offspring…”
    (Manual of Islamic Law, “Reliance of the Traveller”, o1)
    Free download at

  3. I endorse the condemnation of Decathlon’s marketing, but can’t help recalling a story from a few years back; in a shopping mall in (I think) Birmingham (England, not Alabama), a woman in a burkha was spotted by security on cctv shuffling rapidly around; it turned out she’d heard about jogging, and thought it was a good idea, but her garments restricted her from actually running.

  4. The unintelligible word at 8.11 is serre- tête and is the word which has caused enormous brouhaha here. Because it is an alice band! The useful idiot Taché compared putting an alice band on the head of a Catholic child – as if all non Muslims in France were Catholic which is not the case- with putting a hijab on a Muslim child. As Marlene Schiappa his fellow En Marche député and minister for sexual equality pointed out nobody has ever been stoned to death for not wearing an alice band. Decathlon’s running hijab is not a burkini like suit. It is just headgear.

  5. Aurélien Taché monopolized the time with endless repetitive nonsense that assumes the hijab to be a harmless voluntary religious article. He is a cynical politician.

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