A Saudi Arabia athlete is scheduled to participate in the Olympic event of judo on Friday, but she wears a hijab, a head scarf and a traditional form of Muslim dress, and officials say Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani, who was born and raised in the U.S., cannot wear her head scarf during competition. Her father says if the ban stands, his daughter will withdraw from the event.
The officials say they are concerned about safety, but they could follow the lead of soccer officials, who lifted the ban on hijabs in competition earlier this year.
And conversations are ongoing, which is hopeful.
Meanwhile, some 45 percent of the Olympic athletes are women, and every country represented has sent female competitors. But that may not be that big a deal for Saudi women, writes Valerie Bonk at U.S. News & World Report. Bonk writes:
They didn’t qualify for the games. They’re not welcome to compete in their country or attend sporting events even as fans. And they are receiving little to no training or promotion from the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee. But despite these obstacles, Sarah Attar and Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani have arrived in London as their country’s first female athletes ever to compete in the Olympic Games.
Yet while the two women, who were born and raised in America, are hoping to make a statement for women in sports, experts say their inclusion in the 2012 London Olympic Games will have little impact for women abroad.
“It probably means very little,” says Christoph Wilcke, a Saudi researcher at Human Rights Watch. “It is unlikely that the Saudi government or the Saudi sporting authorities of their own volition will make changes inside the country as a result of sending two women to the Olympics.”
For more on hijabs, go here. And you know what strikes me? That this woman and other Muslims are competing during Ramadan, when observant Muslims fast during the day. When you consider the amount of calories it takes to get an Olympic athlete going, that’s pretty incredible. Based on that alone — that this athlete might be competing on an empty stomach — I say let her wrestle, and let her do so in her hijab.
(Of course, the fasting rules have exceptions, and let’s hope the Muslim athletes are exercising those exceptions rigorously.)