The Modest Olympians

The London Olympics will be full of firsts for women’s sport and there’ll be a big leap for Arab women.
At the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, as many as 26 countries refrained from sending female athletes to compete on the world’s biggest sporting stage.
However, by Beijing 2008 that list had shrunk to just three nations; Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei. Four years down the line, London 2012 is set to be the first Olympics in history whereby every participating nation will have at least one female representative. And with the inclusion of women’s boxing, it will also be the first Olympics to involve female athletes in every sport. Muslim women must cover their head, even when competing. This has caused some controversy.


Saudi Arabian Athletes at The Opening Ceremony


Middle distance runner, Sarah Attar and Judoka, Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahman Shahrkhani are Saudi’s historic first-ever female Olympic selections. Attar, born in California of mixed Saudi and American parentage, is the youngest Arab athlete competing at the Olympics. The student of Malibu’s Pepperdine University will take part in the 800 meters track event.


Sarah Attar competes at London 2012


Sarah Attar competes at London 2012


Saudi Arabia’s Sarah Attar


Meanwhile, Shahrkhani, also raised outside of Saudi, will compete in the 78kg Judo event, to cement a legacy along with Attar, as trailblazers in Saudi female sport. Attar said: “I definitely think that my participation in this Olympic Games can increase women’s participation in sports in general. I can only hope for the best for them and that we can really get some good strides going for women in the Olympics further and just in sports in general.”
Unfortunately controversy has followed the young athlete to London with Shahrkhani threatening to pull out after the sport’s governing body said she could not compete wearing a hijab because it was too dangerous. After days of deliberation, a compromise was struck on Monday between judo chiefs, Olympic bosses and Saudis meaning she will now take part in the women’s heavyweight section on Friday. Top female judo fighters are backing the decision to allow a Saudi athlete to compete at the Olympic Games wearing an Islamic headscarf, saying it would not bother them and would be good for women’s sport.


Bahrain sprinter, Ruqaya Al Ghasara a devout Muslim, was the first athlete to ever take part in an Olympics wearing a hijab. Asked if it was a hindrance she said, “Wearing traditional Muslim dress has encouraged me. It’s not an obstacle—quite the opposite,” In fact, she says, it makes her even quicker.


Ruqaya Al Ghasara

Ruqaya Al Ghasara


A decision by FIFA to allow the wearing of the hijab in women’s Olympic soccer events has come too late for the Iranian team. Their qualifying match was scheduled before the new ruling and they were forced to withdraw.


Iranian Women’s Soccer Team

Someone who will compete wearing the headscarf is also from Iran. Neda Shahsavari is a world-class table tennis player.


Neda Shahsavari


One company trying to re-invent the way Muslim women wear the hijab in sports is Resporton who makes a athletic head-covering made of Coolmax.




Non-Muslims sometimes cover their head! Cathy Freeman won a gold medal in the Sydney 2000 Olympics wearing a hooded suit.


Cathy Freeman

Saturday, July 28, 2012 · Categories: Sports and Fitness, Textiles & Materials, Lifestyle
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