Saudi woman to compete without hijab in Olympics

One of the first two female athletes ever to compete from Saudi Arabia in the Olympics will not wear a headscarf in the judo competition, says judo federation chief. What will Saudi Arabians say?

(AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
Two police officers patrol at St. Pancras Station in London, below the Olympic symbol. The colors of the five rings - blue, yellow, black, green, and red - on the white field represent international unity because they draw on the colors of all flags of the world, at least at the time it was designed in 1912.

Saudi Arabia's female judo competitor will fight at the London Olympics "without a hijab", or Islamic headscarf, the sport's chief said on Thursday.

Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shaherkani, one of the first two female athletes sent to the Olympics by the conservative Muslim kingdom, is due to compete in the women's heavyweight tournament next Friday.

"She will fight according to the principle and spirit of judo, so without a hijab," International Judo Federation president Marius Vizer said.

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The decision is likely to cause controversy in Saudi Arabia, where female participation in sports has long been a controversial issue. Powerful clerics denounce women for exercising, saying it goes against their natural role.

A Saudi official had told Reuters earlier this month they expected that the women 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.

Shaherkani, who will compete in the 78-kg category in judo, and teenage 800 metre runner Sarah Attar were the first Saudi women allowed to take part in the Olympics after talks between the International Olympic Committee and the country.

The decision to allow female Saudi athletes to compete at London was praised by IOC President Jacques Rogge at the time.
"This is very positive news and we will be delighted to welcome these two athletes in London in a few weeks time," Rogge said in a statement in early July.

"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."

Saudi Arabia was 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. (Editing by Ossian Shine and Sonya Hepinstall)

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