Ulla Gustavsson has been forced to step down from her post as Swedish Swimming Federation chairwoman after she called the Islamic headdress a sexist garment that normalises oppression.
Commenting on the National Sports Association's decision to use a photograph of a young veiled Muslim girl brandishing an air gun to promote "inclusion", Ulla Gustavsson argued that this was a wrong step to take.
According to Gustavsson, such images encourage honour-based oppression and violence, genital mutilation and child marriage, which, according to her, goes against the values that Sweden champions, such as gender equality.
The air gun in combination with the veil also sent a wrong signal, she concluded.
Gustavsson went so far as to argue that the veil, which, she ventured, was a religious expression, shouldn't be worn by small children altogether.
"The veil cannot be anything but sexualisation of the woman. It should not be displayed", Gustavsson told the tabloid daily Aftonbladet.
Gustavsson's verbal attack was met by a forceful counterthrust from human rights NGOs, who branded her an "Islamophobe".
"What Ulla Gustavsson does, drawing links between the veil and serious forms of honour-related violence such as genital mutilation and child marriage, is not only ignorant and improper, but also Islamophobic", Kristina Wicksell of the NGO Make Equal and Maria Henriksson of the Shift campaign wrote in a joint opinion piece published by SVT.
Idag skriver vi tillsammans med @SkiftetSE om den kritik som riktats mot bilden av en flicka i hijab som utövar sporten skytte. Uttalandena kring detta är helt oacceptabla. Ta ställning under hashtaggen #sportaslöjan i alla era kanaler på sociala medier. https://t.co/geihvrqsHs— Make Equal (@MakeEqual) 13 февраля 2019 г.
In support of women's right to wear the veil as they please, they started a petition called "Don't render invisible women who want to do sports veiled". To further back their cause, they launched the hashtag #sportaslöjan ("sport in the veil").
Newly-minted Swedish Democracy and Culture Minister Amanda Lind, who sparked outrage her very first day in office by hailing a party colleague who had to step down amid Islamist accusations, called it a "matter of fact" that all children playing sports in Sweden should be shown on photograph, Aftonbladet reported.
Some debaters, however, chose to side with Gustavsson.
"It is not possible to discuss the veil without its context; When this is ignored, even the lack of freedom that many women experience is. How many women would voluntarily choose to wear a veil if there were no social expectations, punishments, and religious rewards for wearing it?" bachelor of social services Devin Rexvid wrote in an opinion piece in Göteborgs-Posten called "The veil shows contempt for women".
Nevertheless, following the uproar, Gustavsson had to resign. Swedish Swimming Federation vice chairman Stefan Persson lauded Gustavsson's work and contribution to swimming on both the national and international level, but stressed that there was a universal consensus that there was no opportunity for her to continue her work.
"The Swedish Swimming Association takes the recent debate very seriously, and we have come to the conclusion that there are no longer conditions for Ulla Gustavsson to successfully lead the association", Stefan Persson said in a statement. "Her personal perceptions and statements contrast with the Swedish Swimming Federation's strategy and basic view that all children should fit in our activities on equal terms".
In Sweden, the right-wing Sweden Democrats have long championed a ban on comprehensive religious veils, which their leader Jimmie Åkesson called a "symbol of a militant and anti-democratic political ideology". In 2018, however, the party softened its stance and is now seeking to limit the possibilities of forcing religious garments on children.