Saudi Arabian Athlete Told She Cannot Wear Hijab While Competing in Olympics

A Saudi Arabian woman may not be allowed to wear her hijab when she competes in the Olympics next week. Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani was expected to compete in the women’s heavyweight judo tournament next Friday, but her participation is now uncertain after an announcement from the head of the International Judo Federation. IJF president Marius Vizer said yesterday that Shaherkani would fight according to "the principle and spirit of judo," — code for: “without the hijab.”

IJF spokesperson Nicolas Messner said to reporters, “In judo we use strangleholds and chokeholds so the hijab could be dangerous,” despite the fact that Asian judo federations have previously allowed Muslim women to wear the hijab during major competitions.

Then he stated the IFJ’s real problem with the hijab: “The only difference between competitors should be their level of judo,” explaining that the sport aims to be nonpolitical.

So in an attempt to depoliticize IFJ’s sporting event, they politicize the hijab? Come on IFJ, don’t you know that the Olympics is an event where everyone comes together and pretends things aren’t political? But the IFJ apparently has no qualms about being ethnocentric. 

As Saudi Arabian leaders agreed to send women to the Olympics only if they wear traditional Muslim clothing, talks are now underway among the Saudi Arabian National Olympic Committee, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the IJF. 

Messner told Reuters: "We still have one week. She is still scheduled to compete, there's no information that she won't compete.”

IOC spokesman Mark Adams added: "It was a positive discussion and we are confident a solution will be found," he said. And when asked what that solution would be, he said: "there are a range of options."

Shahrkhani and runner Sarah Attar, who is allowed to wear her hijab, are the first Saudi women participating in the Olympics.

In recent years, the World Taekwondo Federation and FIFA, removed their bans of headscarves to accommodate Islamic traditions.   

As Shahrkhani, who was given a special invitation from the IOC to compete in London, now waits in limbo we may wonder: who really is the problem? On the one hand, the IJF is clearly xenophobic for not allowing her to wear her hijab.  On the other hand, Saudi officials are being patriarchal and controlling for only allowing Saudi women to compete on the officials’ terms. But how does Shahrkhani feel about her hijab? We may never know, because in covering the debate surrounding the hijab, the media often fails to talk to Muslims or women. And the media talking to Muslim women? That’s a rare find.

AlterNet / By Alyssa Figueroa

Posted at July 27, 2012, 6:56pm

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