Saudi Olympic athlete hit by judo head scarf ban: Safety or discrimination? (+video)
For the first time, Saudi Arabia sent women athletes to the Olympics, but now judo officials say one can't compete with a head scarf, citing safety concerns.
One day after a female Saudi Arabian judo player arrived in London – under strict instructions from national Olympic officials to compete "wearing suitable clothing" that complies with Islamic custom – the International Judo Federation banned the wearing of head scarves Thursday.
The move was made for safety reasons, said Nicolas Messner, a federation spokesman. Judo involves grabbing opponents' clothing and using choke holds, making the head scarf – or hijab – "dangerous," he added.
Messner told the Associated Press that negotiations are ongoing with the Saudi Arabian delegation to find a compromise. But neither the Saudis nor the athlete, Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani, has yet made a statement about whether she will compete. She and Sarah Attar – a middle-distance runner who grew up in California but has dual citizenship – are the first two women ever to represent Saudi Arabia at the Olympics, and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had to lobby hard to persuade Saudi Arabia to send them.
For the first time in Olympic history, all 205 nations have sent both men and women to the Summer Games.