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Saudi Arabia's first female Olympians face dilemma over religious headgear

Published: Friday, July 3 2015 9:46 a.m. MDT

Saudi Arabia's athletes parade, Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shaherkani, center, during the Opening Ceremony at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Friday, July 27, 2012, in London. (Matt Dunham, Associated Press) Saudi Arabia's athletes parade, Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shaherkani, center, during the Opening Ceremony at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Friday, July 27, 2012, in London. (Matt Dunham, Associated Press)

Our take: Even though Saudi Arabia's first two female Olympians have been lauded as a symbol of breakthrough and triumph, issues have plagued the two because of the conflict of Muslim religious laws requiring a headscarf and Olympic rules requiring the removal of them for competition. According to Olympic rule makers, the headscarf could fall off, causing a hazard. Olympic competitors feel no special considering should be made for religious gear while Saudi rulers try to continue to push for the coverings.

Sixteen-year-old Wojdan Shaherkani strolled through the Olympic judo venue Monday in a lacy, light-pink head scarf, accompanied by her father and unsure whether she would leave the Games a trailblazer or diplomatic casualty.

Ms. Shaherkani and another woman are the first female members of Saudi Arabia's Olympic team, and their selection to compete in the Games was hailed, at least internationally, as a breakthrough for one of the world's most conservative Muslim countries. But even before Ms. Shaherkani's first fight Friday in the women's heavyweight judo tournament, that legacy is in jeopardy.

The International Judo Federation said last week that she needed to remove her head scarf, known as a hijab, for the match. Her father and Saudi officials have said she can't compete without her head covered. The federation and the Saudi Olympic Committee were locked in negotiations Monday.

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