Saudi judo fighter, officials in talks over headscarf ban

By Matt Brooks

The London Olympics promise to be a major milestone for women’s athletics in Saudi Arabia. The nation sent its first two female Olympians to the British Isles but for judo athlete Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani, that visit could be short-lived.

(Marwan Naamanimarwan Naamani/AFP/GettyImages)

On Thursday, the International Judo Federation ruled Shahrkhani could not wear a headscarf during competition because it was against “the principles and spirit of judo” and raised safety concerns. Saudi Arabia’s concession to allow women to compete in the games included the stipulation that they sport the traditional hijab, and without it, Shahrkhani would not be permitted to fight.

But the Federation is reportedly working on a compromise that would allow Shahrkhani to compete. Nicolas Messner, a Federation spokesman, told the Associated Press Friday that there was “good collaboration” among judo officials, the International Olympic Committee and Saudi Arabia on reaching a resolution. IOC spokesman Mark Adams said the parties “are making good progress.”

Judo does not require headgear that could cover a headscarf, like taekwondo, and the discipline includes strangle-holds and choke-holds, which could present safety issues when a scarf is worn, organizers said. But the Asian Judo Federation has allowed Muslim women to wear hijabs.

Even if Shahrkhani is allowed to compete, she is not expected to perform well. Unlike the rest of the fighters, she does not hold a black belt and has never fought in an international competition. The IOC extended her a special invitation to represent her country.

“You need a very high level of judo to be able to compete at the Olympic Games,” Neil Adams, a double Olympic silver medalist for Britain told the Associated Press. “I wish her all the best, but she’s a novice.”

Shahrkhani’s fellow female ambassador, Sarah Attar, will wear a headscarf when she runs the 800 meters.

olympic mascots

GALLERY: Click on the image above to final preparations from organizers and athletes.

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By Matt McFarland July 27, 2012