Saudi Arabia Judoka Shahrkhani Allowed to Wear Headscarf at Olympics

By Community | July 31, 2012

The IOC will allow Saudi Arabia athlete Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani to compete in the Olympics in a headscarf after a compromise was reached that respects “cultural sensitivities” in the Muslim kingdom.

Judo officials had previously said they would not let Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani compete in a headscarf because it was against the principles of the sport and raised safety concerns.

But an agreement was reached after several days of IOC-brokered talks between the international judo federation and the Saudi Olympic Committee that clears the way for her to compete Friday in the women’s heavyweight division.

“They have a solution that works for both parties, all parties involved,” International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams said. “The athlete will compete.”

Saudi Arabia, which had never sent women athletes to the Olympics before, brought its two first female Olympians to London on condition they adhere to the kingdom’s conservative Islamic traditions, including wearing a headscarf.

Shahrkhani’s participation was thrown into doubt last week when judo officials said a headscarf could be dangerous because the sport includes chokeholds and aggressive grabbing techniques.

Without giving precise details of the headscarf agreement, Adams said it is in line with rules of judo in Asia and is “safety compliant but allows for cultural sensitivity.'”

“In Asia, judo is a common practice so they asked for something that would be compliant with that, and the judo federations have reached a compromise that both are happy with,” he said.

Asian judo federations have previously allowed Muslim women to wear the headscarf, known as a hijab, during major competitions. Headscarves are allowed in taekwondo, but taekwondo fighters also wear a headguard, which covers the headscarf.

Shahrkhani may be the first judoka to fight at the Olympics who does not hold a black belt in judo, a Japanese martial art.

She did not qualify for her Olympic spot like the majority of other judoka. The IOC extended a special invitation for her to compete as part of negotiations to bring Saudi women to the Olympics for the first time.

The other Saudi female athlete scheduled to compete in London is 19-year-old Sarah Attar, a California-based 800-meter runner.