Hijab allowed in Olympic judo, good decision or lack of moral fibre?

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Wojidan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani, the female judo competitor and first ever woman to represent Saudi Arabia in the Olympics will now be allowed to compete wearing a modified hijab.

Until a few days ago, the International Judo Association was adamant that because of the physical nature of the sport, wearing that article of clothing during competition would create a safety risk.

Firstly, it is a huge achievement for her to become the first woman from that male dominated country to compete in the Olympics, she has obviously overcome prejudices, hurdles and difficulties that most female athletes never encounter. All credit to her for getting to the Olympics.

There does seem to be some concern about her skill level, according to a National Post article, she is a blue belt,  all other competitors are higher black belt.

Whether she should or should not be allowed to compete based on her competence, is a matter for the Olympic and Judo authorities to decide.

If the Judo Association’s rules state that headgear or other items of clothing are deemed unacceptable, then those are the rules. We all have choices to make in life, for women athletes from Moslem countries there are harsh additional choices to make; between sport and religion, local customs and international sporting rules, personal ambition and family loyalty. That is tough, always has been and is likely to remain tough for a while yet. As much as we might sympathise with them, sports rules are there for the good of the sport as a whole, competitors need to follow the rules, not expect rules to be changed to accommodate their particular national or religious requirements.

As far as I am aware, the basic rules of acceptable clothing for Judo have not been drastically changed in recent times. Any competitor or team official in the sport would have known well before the London Olympics what those rules were.

A bit late to request special treatment on the eve of competition.

My concern is the apparent capitulation by the Judo Association, it reeks of appeasement and suggests that pressure has been exerted by others outside the sport to bend the rules. Olympic organisers perhaps?

The hypocrisy is sickening, South Africa was banned from competing in the Olympics from 1964 to 1992, yet South Africa did not treat its female population of any colour, black white, brown or green as badly as Saudi Arabia and certain other countries in the Middle East. South African women of all races, drove cars, worked, went out without chaperones, owned businesses, associated freely with unmarried men and were not required to cover every square inch of skin except their eyes. That some in the Moslem community there did adopt the dress and other customs was by their or their community’s choice, not a legal or national requirement.

An example of even more hypocrisy is that, in the in the 18 years of the so-called new South Africa, more than double the number of violent deaths have occurred than in the 46 years from 1948 to 1994, the  “apartheid” period. Strange that there haven’t  been any calls for South Africa to be banned this time around.

There were reports that the father of the Saudi judo contestant refused to give her permission to compete unless she wore a hijab, she is still a teenager, so it could be argued that he has that right. But preventing an athlete from taking possibly her only chance in a lifetime at Olympic competition on religious grounds would be seen as a huge violation of human rights in most countries. Looks like the capitulation is more to pacify the father than the contestant herself.

The compromise of a modified hajib agreed by the Judo Association, is not enough to satisfy everyone, there are religious groups arguing that she should not be competing  at all, that she should only pursue her sport in secluded women only competitions.

Hypocritical too that Olympic contestants are not permitted to display one shred of an unapproved logo (many of the cyclists had white covers over their helmets to obscure logos or advertising) but the rules can be changed to pacify a single contestant’s religious watchdogs.

The question has to be raised, if a Jewish contestant demanded to compete in a yarmulke or a Christian in crucifix adorned judo gear, would the rules be changed?  I think we all know the answer to that.

Even more hypocrisy in the deafening silence from the feminist movement over this incident and the larger issue of women’s rights (or lack of) in Saudi Arabia and other Moslem nations. Perhaps attacking Western, European male-dominated governments, corporations and institutions gets better publicity and is somewhat safer.

Political correctness gone mad.

Wishing you success in all your endeavours, sporting or otherwise.


Peter Wright




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  3 comments for “Hijab allowed in Olympic judo, good decision or lack of moral fibre?

  1. August 1, 2012 at 9:22 pm

    I totally agree with you Peter. Everything surrounding reasonable accommodation in our society, for anything extremist Muslim, is hypocritical. We are seeing lots of it in our own society, with groups making arguments when it looks safer, keeping silent in the face of the almighty Arab nations. (a soccer league here refused the hijab and got reprimanded after FIFA accepted the gear!) I cringe when I see young girls trying to play sports all covered up. It’s hot, it’s not safe… they see other girls uncovered and more comfortable… and now this in the international scene. Kudos to the girl for pushing for her dream, but at what cost to women’s rights…. truly sad.

    • August 3, 2012 at 10:16 pm

      Thanks for the comment Carmen, today I saw a Princess from Jordan ( I did not catch her name) being interviewed, she was one of the first women from the Middle East to compete internationally (as an equestrian) she does not wear the hijab or cover herself from head to toe. A very sophisticated and well spoken woman competing on equal terms and in the same dress as all other competitors.

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