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The Globe and Mail

Olympic officials search for common ground in head-scarf dispute

Kelita Zupancic, left, of Canada challenges Yoriko Kunihara of Japan during their women's under 70 kg semi-final at the IJF Grand Slam judo tournament in Rio de Janeiro June 19, 2011.


The first clash of the London Olympics is a cultural one – Muslim tradition versus judo's tradition.

Female judo fighter Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani, is caught between wearing a head scarf – also called a hijab – and a ruling by the International Judo Federation, that she cannot participate in the London Olympics because wearing the head scarf poses a danger in a sport that allows chokeholds and strangleholds.

The Associated Press and the British paper The Times reported Friday that talks are taking place over two days between Saudi team officials, the sport governing body the IJF and IOC representatives to seek out common ground that would allow the young woman to compete for Saudi Arabia in the Games. IJF spokesman Nicolas Messner described their discussion as a "good collaboration" to find a solution.

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Messner reiterated Friday that the female athlete could not compete in the Games wearing a head scarf. While it is considered part of a conservative Muslim woman's garb, it is not typically part of a judoka's competition uniform.

On Thursday, IJF president Marius Vizer vetoed the head scarf, citing safety concerns – although Asian judo federations have previously accommodated Muslim women wearing a hijab during major competitions.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia sent its first two female Olympians to the London Games, agreeing to let the women participate if they adhered to Islamic traditions. That included a woman athlete wearing the head scarf.  Sarah Attar, Saudi Arabia's other female Olympic athlete, is expected wear a head scarf when she competes in distance running.

Shahrkhani may be the first judoka to fight at the Olympics who does not hold a black belt in judo. She holds a lower degree blue belt. She has been training two years, mainly with her father, and has not fought in an international competition.

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