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Faith making headlines in 2012 Olympics

Published: Tuesday, July 31 2012 9:30 a.m. MDT

In this Saturday, July 25, 1992 file photo, members of Saudi Arabia's team walk in Olympic Stadium in Barcelona during the opening ceremonies of the XXV Olympics. Every country competing at the London Games will include female athletes for the first time in Olympic history after Saudi Arabia agreed Thursday, July 12, 2012 to send two women to compete in judo and track and field. The move by the ultraconservative Muslim kingdom to break with its practice of fielding male-only teams followed earlier decisions by Qatar and Brunei to send women athletes to the Olympics for the first time.

Associated Press

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LONDON — It began with how Muslim athletes would observe Ramadan, followed by profiles of Christians competing for God. Religion has made headlines leading up and during the 2012 Olympics in London.

Here's a sample of some of the more recent stories highlighting the faith angle to the Games:

— A female Saudi fighter will take part in the Olympic judo competition after being allowed to wear a specially designed Islamic headscarf, or hijab, officials said Monday. This is the latest story on how organizers and sporting federations are trying to accommodate the beliefs and observances of athletes. In this case, the International Judo Federation was afraid the hijab could be a strangulation threat to the person wearing it. But they have agreed on an acceptable design.

— The Saudi judoka was among the first females whom Saudi Arabia has allowed to compete in the Olympics, at the urging of the International Olympic Committee. The Washington Post detailed how the 2012 Games is a first for Muslim women on several fronts, from athletes competing to those working behind the scenes for the event.

The story also noted that the Games are also the first since the Moscow games in 1980 to coincide with Ramadan, the Muslim holy month where the faithful abstain from food and drink daily from dawn until dusk. And, despite the spiritual and physical challenges presented with the timing, this year marks the highest participation of Muslims athletes — more than 3,000 or a third of all participating Olympians.

— The Religion News Service offered a historical perspective on the connection between religion and Olympics dating back to ancient Greece, where the event was dedicated to Zeus, the chief Greek god. The mix between sports and worship also led Roman Emperor Theodosius I, a Christian, to ban the Olympics in 393 A.D.

— Finally, Dr. Emma Tarlo, who specializes in the anthropology of dress, material culture and urban anthropology, writes in the Huff Post that sportswear designers are taking notice of women of faith looking for alternatives to revealing sportswear as a potential market.

She writes about the so-called "burqini" — a two-piece, hooded tunic and trouser combination. "The original Ahiida trademark burqini was designed by Aheda Zanetti, a Lebanese born Australian Muslim woman who recognized that many Muslim women were simply avoiding swimming owing to their concerns about modesty and bodily exposure. On her website she has received testimonials of approval not only from Muslims but also Christians, orthodox Jews and people concerned about skin cancer."

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