Athlete safety, religious freedom at centre of London 2012 hijab debate

In London, international judo officials spent the weekend negotiating with the delegation from Saudi Arabia, which demands that Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shaherkani be allowed to wear a hijab or a head scarf during competitions. Her father told a British newspaper that his daughter, one of only two female Saudi athletes, will pull out of the competition if she can’t wear the hijab.

The International Judo Federation bans head gear for safety reasons and so far it has been unable to reach a compromise. Nicolas Messner, a spokesman for the International Judo Federation, said the federation has never dealt with this situation before, but pointed out that there is still time to find a solution before Ms. Shaherkani’s first scheduled bout on Friday.

The IOC is staying away from the issue, insisting that it’s up to the IJF. “Clearly we want people to be able to take part in sport,” said IOC spokesman Mark Adams.

Some competitors have sympathy for the federation. “Judo is a very traditional sport, it comes from Japan,” said Canadian judoka Sasha Mehmedovic. “Chances are, it’s going to come off, and she is going to have to repeatedly put it back on, which wastes time during a competition.”

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Categories: Europe, Hijab, olympics, Sports, UK, Women

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