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Saudi Arabia's Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shaherkani gestures as she walks with the contingent in the atheletes parade during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium July 27, 2012. Saudi Arabia's first female Olympic athletes made their appearance at the opening ceremony to the London Games on Friday, dressed in traditional hijabs, or Islamic headscarfs. On Thursday, International Judo Federation president Marius Vizer said Shaherkani would have to fight without a hijab - a decision that is likely to cause controversy in Saudi Arabia, where female participation in sports has long been a controversial issue. (SUZANNE PLUNKETT/REUTERS)
Saudi Arabia's Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shaherkani gestures as she walks with the contingent in the atheletes parade during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium July 27, 2012. Saudi Arabia's first female Olympic athletes made their appearance at the opening ceremony to the London Games on Friday, dressed in traditional hijabs, or Islamic headscarfs. On Thursday, International Judo Federation president Marius Vizer said Shaherkani would have to fight without a hijab - a decision that is likely to cause controversy in Saudi Arabia, where female participation in sports has long been a controversial issue. (SUZANNE PLUNKETT/REUTERS)

Summer Olympics

Athlete safety, religious freedom at centre of London 2012 hijab debate Add to ...

In London, international judo officials spent the weekend negotiating with the delegation from Saudi Arabia, which demands that Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shaherkani be allowed to wear a hijab or a head scarf during competitions. Her father told a British newspaper that his daughter, one of only two female Saudi athletes, will pull out of the competition if she can’t wear the hijab.

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The International Judo Federation bans head gear for safety reasons and so far it has been unable to reach a compromise. Nicolas Messner, a spokesman for the International Judo Federation, said the federation has never dealt with this situation before, but pointed out that there is still time to find a solution before Ms. Shaherkani’s first scheduled bout on Friday.

The IOC is staying away from the issue, insisting that it’s up to the IJF. “Clearly we want people to be able to take part in sport,” said IOC spokesman Mark Adams.

Some competitors have sympathy for the federation. “Judo is a very traditional sport, it comes from Japan,” said Canadian judoka Sasha Mehmedovic. “Chances are, it’s going to come off, and she is going to have to repeatedly put it back on, which wastes time during a competition.”

BEACH VOLLEBALL: DRESSING UP

Beach volleyball has built much of its popularity on the spectacle of women competing in bikinis – so much so that it mandates the size of the outfits (they cannot exceed a maximum side width of seven centimetres). However, the International Volleyball Federation recently amended its rules and gave competitors the option of competing in shorts and T-shirts during the Olympics. The move was designed “to respect the custom and religious beliefs” of players, the federation said.

The change in attire doesn’t sit well with players like Kristyna Kolocova of the Czech Republic, who enjoys playing in a bikini. “I like to play like this because I think it’s connected with beach volleyball,” Ms. Kolocova said Saturday at the arena on the Horse Guards Parade after winning her first round match with partner Marketa Slukova. “If we play with some long stuff, it doesn’t look so good. ... Nobody is used to playing in shorts and a T-shirt.”

BADMINTON: SHORT-SKIRTED

The Badminton World Federation tried to introduce mandatory skirts last year, saying it would help raise the profile of the sport and “ensure attractive presentation” of the athletes. The federation pointed to tennis where women regularly wear skirts. But the rule change caused a storm of protest from players and others who called it sexist.

“Wearing pants doesn’t make a female athlete any less of a woman,” American Nadra Kareem Little said in an online petition she drafted last year to oppose the move. “But, of course, the new dress code isn’t really about how ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ women athletes look. It’s about putting women’s bodies, and thus sex appeal, on display to sell tickets and boost ratings.”

Badminton officials scrapped the change.

BOXING: OPTIONS IN THE RING

Women’s boxing is being included in the Olympics for the first time in London and initially the International Boxing Association indicated it wanted athletes to wear skirts in order to make them look more “elegant.” That also caused protests from boxers and the association decided to make skirts optional.

"Everything in this world is more exciting, interesting and inspiring when women participate," association president Dr. Ching-Kuo Wu said in defending the decision. "Also as a father of two daughters, I've always brought them up with the idea that women can do anything and everything."

SOCCER: NO CONCERNS

Soccer’s world body, FIFA, reversed its long-standing ban on hijabs in June saying they posed no concern for safety.

 

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