Paris (AFP) – American Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad and representatives of her sponsors, Nike, criticised French attitudes to the hijab on a promotional visit to the country.
Muhammad was attending a long-planned event in Paris at which the US sportswear brand launched their strips for 14 nations, including the hosts, in the women’s World Cup in France this summer.
In February, the American sportswear company was embroiled in a controversy when retailer Decathlon withdrew sports Nike’s hijab from its French stores after one day following threats.
“I’ll be in my @Nike pro hijab every damn day,” Muhammad, who in 2016 became the first American to compete in a hijab in the Games, tweeted before travelling to France.
“It’s sad to me that France has not joined the global conversation around inclusively, around diversity. To prohibit a company from selling a sport hijab is shameful,” the Olympic bronze medallist told AFP on Monday.
“I think that it hurts much more than it helps your nation here.”
Bert Hoyt, a Nike vice-president, said the company were looking forward to the women’s World Cup in France.
“Our goal is to provide the access for all women to have the opportunity to play sport and to play women’s football,” he said.
“We believe that we are at the beginning of a journey and we believe that the World Cup in June will be a tipping point for the future of the women’s game.”
– ‘Inclusive’ –
The Nike hijab provoked a strong reactions in France.
A spokeswoman for President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist party, Aurore Berge, said the sports hijab goes against French “values”.
Lydia Guirous of the centre-right Republicans said it went hand in hand with “the submission of women.”
“I think you’re not a feminist if you believe that wearing a hijab is not a choice,” she said. “Anyone who believes in individual rights, freedom of choice, should support women who choose to wear it.
“It’s not your choice. It should be our choice.
“And anyone who sees a problem with that does not belong in sport, because sport is a place that it supposed to be inclusive of everyone, not matter where you’re from, your sexual orientation, your faith, your skin colour, your gender, it doesn’t matter,” she said.
In the French government, only Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu supported the sale of the hijab.
“I want to go and get women, mothers, girls wherever they are and as they are, to encourage them to practise sport, because it is, I am convinced, a powerful lever of emancipation,” Maracineanu said.
Muhammad’s hijab is not visible once she dons her fencing mask.
“I do not necessarily need a sports hijab to practise the sport I’m doing, but I know it has made my life easier,” she said.
“I hope it will help women all over the world to be more integrated by being active. There are so many stereotypes and bad perceptions that exist about the Muslim community,” she said.