Female Saudi judoka WILL fight in a hijab... agreement reached with Olympic officials to allow her to wear headscarf in competition. Your thoughts...
A female Saudi Arabian judoka will be allowed to compete in the Olympics while wearing her hijab, it has emerged.
Wodjan Shaherkani's participation in the London 2012 Games had been in doubt after the International Judo Federation said she needed to remove the head scarf for her match.
But Saudi Olympic Committee (SOC) spokesman Razan Baker announced yesterday that the IJF had relented its stance after negotiations between officials, clearing the way for Shaherkani to fight on Friday.
She and teammate Sarah Attar, the kingdom's first ever female Olympic competitors, have both signed agreements agreeing to compete only in kit that 'sticks to Islamic principles,' Ms Baker told CNN.
The decision comes as the inclusion of female athletes for the first time ever in the Saudi Olympic team has prompted a heated reaction among hardliners in the oil-rich Middle Eastern state.
Some conservative Islamists have denounced Attar and Shaherkani as shameless 'whores', but many other Saudis have praised them as trailblazers for the progress of women's rights.
The decision to allow Shaherkani, 16, to compete dressed in Islamic-compliant clothing threatens now to intensify that quarrel. She had said she would refuse to compete in the +78-kilogram judo category if she was banned from wearing a hijab.
Saudi newspapers reported that she had telephoned her father to say she would withdraw from the Olympics if she was forced to compete uncovered.
The president of the IJF Marius Vizer, said last week that Shaherkani would have to fight without a hijab to comply with 'the principle and spirit of judo'.
The IJF's regulations for the Olympic Games state that no headgear can be worn, and the federation had said there could be a danger to fighters if a hijab is inadvertently used for an otherwise legal strangulation grip.
But Ms Razan said yesterday that, after negotiation between the SOC, the International Olympic Committee and the IFJ, an agreement had now been reached on an acceptable form of headscarf.
'They agreed on a design and she will compete wearing this design,' Ms Baker said, adding that she did not know how this design looked.
Conservative Muslim clerics in Saudi Arabia oppose women's sport, arguing that it is immodest and against their nature.
That view was reflected in Twitter postings, including one under a hashtag that would translate as 'Olympic_Whores'.
'One should not hesitate to describe their participation as shameful and a great sin,' Khaled Al Jabri, whose Twitter profile listed him as a Saudi from Jeddah, wrote in one of thousands of postings on the subject.
'Whores of the Olympics ... They want to run so that they intentionally fall down and reveal [their figures],' said a tweeter using the name mloven2100, another Saudi.
But supporters of the athletes hijacked the hashtag to post messages in their defence.
'I'm proud of Saudi women's participation in the Olympics,' wrote Fahad Al Enzi, a member of a prominent Saudi tribe whose profile listed him as from Riyadh.
A woman who identified herself as Safaa, a Saudi, tweeted: 'Women walking behind the Saudi delegation is historic. Next we'll be carrying the flag and walking side by side, equal.'
Competing in the Olympics is such a huge step for women in Saudi Arabia, they are happy to abide by the strict caveats laid out by their country's leaders.
These include dressing modestly, being accompanied by a male guardian at all times and never mixing with men during the Games, Prince Nawaf bin Faisal told the Al-Jazirah newspaper.
Saudi sportswomen may only take part if they do so 'wearing suitable clothing that complies with sharia' (Islamic law) and 'the athlete's guardian agrees and attends with her', he said.
'There must also be no mixing with men during the Games,' he added.
'The athlete and her guardian must pledge not to break these conditions,' he said.
It comes after months of talks - with Saudi Olympic chiefs at one point insisting no women would be allowed to take part.
IOC president Jacques Rogge described their entry, confirmed by the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee ahead of the July 9 deadline, as 'very positive news'.
He said: 'The IOC has been working very closely with the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee and I am pleased to see that our continued dialogue has come to fruition.
'The IOC has been striving to ensure a greater gender balance at the Olympic Games, and today’s news can be seen as an encouraging evolution.
'With Saudi Arabian female athletes now joining their fellow female competitors from Qatar and Brunei Darussalam, it means that by London 2012 every National Olympic Committee will have sent women to the Olympic Games.'
Qatar and Brunei, two other countries that have never sent any female athletes to the Olympics, are also including women on their teams for the London Games.
With the Saudis now following suit, it means all national teams competing in the games will include female athletes for the first time in Olympic history.
About 10,500 athletes are expected to compete in London, representing more than 200 national Olympic committees.
Saudi Arabia has been under pressure from the International Olympic Committee and human-rights groups to include women athletes.
The IOC has been in negotiations with the Saudis for months on securing the participation of women.
They said the two Saudi athletes were entered by the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee by the official deadline of July 9.
Rights groups hailed the decision as a step forward for Saudi women in their quest for basic rights in a country that severely restricts them in public life.
'It's an important precedent that will create space for women to get rights and it will be hard for Saudi hardliners to roll back,' said Minky Worden of the New York-based Human Rights Watch.
In the Saudi city of Jeddah, Mariam Alawi, a housewife in her 20s, said: 'This is fantastic news and it's about time. Maybe now people in Saudi can see that females are capable of taking the reins. The world already knows that women can do great things - maybe now Saudi can know that too.'
Hashim Adnan, a 28-year-old Saudi man who works at an investment firm in Jeddah, said the athletes were likely to face 'heavy criticism' in the country, but that the government should support them.
Saudi King Abdullah has a reputation as a cautious reformer and supporter of women's rights. Last year he announced plans to allow women to vote in municipal council elections and join the consultative Shoura council.
The country's official sports body, the General Presidency of Youth Welfare, only caters to male athletes and women do not take part in sports at state schools. So women athletes have to fund themselves and arrange their own training, mostly abroad.
A Saudi official told Reuters earlier this month Saudi women participating in the Olympics would have to obey the dress code of Islamic law. He did not elaborate, but other conservative Muslim countries have interpreted this to mean a headscarf, long sleeves and long pants.
Saudi Arabia is one of three countries, alongside Brunei and Qatar, never to have sent female athletes to the Olympics but the latter two confirmed earlier this year that their delegations would include women.
Brunei has entered Maziah Mahusin (athletics), while Qatar has entered Nada Arkaji (swimming), Noor Al-Malki (athletics), Aya Magdy (table tennis) and Bahiya Al-Hamad (shooting), who will also be her country's flagbearer at the opening ceremony.
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