Women in hijab
Women in hijabiStock

French sportswear retailer Decathlon has scrapped plans to sell a hijab for women runners in France following a public outcry, the BBC reported on Tuesday.

The firm said it had decided to suspend the product following "a wave of insults" and "unprecedented threats".

Decathlon initially stood by the hijab, which is already for sale in Morocco.

"We are making the decision... to not market this product in France at this time," Decathlon spokesman Xavier Rivoire was quoted as having told RTL radio on Tuesday.

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.

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 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.

France outlawed the wearing of a niqab (full face veil) - part of the burqa, or full body covering worn by Muslim women - in public in April 2011, citing security concerns as the reason for the ban. Women who wear the veil face a 150 euro ($190) fine.

In 2014, a French court convicted a young woman for wearing a full-face Islamic veil in public and threw out her bid to have the burqa ban declared unconstitutional.

A number of European countries have followed France in banning face veils.

A parliamentary committee in Belgium voted to ban the burqa shortly after France passed its law. Italy has drafted a similar law.

An Austrian law that forbids any kind of full-face covering, including Islamic veils, came into force in later 2017, while a ban in Denmark on the Islamic full-face veil in public spaces came into force last year.