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Judo officials reach accord with Saudis over Olympian's hijab

July 31, 2012 |  9:18 am


Judo officials say they’ve reached an agreement with the Saudi Olympic committee to ensure that one of the first Saudi women to compete in the Games is able to remain.

The International Judo Federation said last week that Wodjan Shahrkhani couldn’t wear a headscarf during competition, fearing it could be a safety risk as judokas grapple on the mat.

The decision jeopardized Shahrkhani staying in the Olympics. Saudi officials had insisted that their first female Olympians must dress modestly and follow other rules, such as not mixing with men. Her father told Saudi media she would not compete Friday if she had to remove her hijab.

The judo federation and Saudi officials did not explain exactly what they had agreed to, but said “the solution agreed guarantees a good balance between safety and cultural considerations.”

International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams said he had no details about what Shahrkhani would wear, but confirmed they had agreed to “a suitable head covering.”

This is the first year that Saudi Arabia has sent women to the Olympics, under pressure from human rights activists and the International Olympic Committee. Women are tightly restricted from playing sports in the deeply religious kingdom, where athletics are sometimes seen as steps toward immorality. Some Saudis have attacked the female Olympians as “prostitutes” on Twitter.

Because sports for women are so limited in Saudi Arabia, some fretted it would be hard to even find female candidates from the country. Shahrkhani does not hold a black belt and has only practiced judo for a few years, the Agence France-Presse reported.

The other Saudi female Olympian, runner Sarah Attar, grew up mostly in California. She appears without a headscarf on the Olympics website.


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Photo: Wodjan Shahrkhani, center rear, and other Saudi athletes enter the Olympic Stadium during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games on Friday. Credit: Jonathan Brady / European Pressphoto Agency.