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Judoka to become first Saudi woman to compete in Olympics



Liz Draper
WVoN co-editor

Wojdan Shaherkani may have spent less than two minutes on the mat in the women’s heavyweight judo competition today, but she has made history as the first Saudi Arabian woman to compete at the Olympics.

Her road to the games has not been an easy one. Her participation was only guaranteed last Friday, when a dispute over whether or not she could wear a headscarf was resolved.

The International Judo Federation (IJF) had previously insisted that the 16 year old judoka fight without a hijab, in order to comply with “the principle and spirit of judo”.

Officials had also raised safety concerns, as judo involves chokeholds, and clothing is frequently used to gain leverage for throws.

One of the conditions placed on competing Saudi women is that they wear “suitable clothing that complies with Sharia” (see WVoN story). Shaherkani’s father was quoted as saying that she would withdraw if she was not allowed to wear a headscarf.

However, the IJF and the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee reached a compromise earlier this week after several days of negotiations.

According to a spokesman from the International Olympic Committee (IOC): “the judo federation will allow her to wear something which will not compromise her safety, which I think they use for competitions in Asia”.

Saudi Arabia only confirmed in June that it would allow women to compete. Even then, it seemed unlikely that the country would actually send a female competitor due to the lack of women meeting minimum qualifying standards.

Shaherkani and her compatriot Sarah Attar, and 800 metre runner, will compete under special invitation from the IOC.

Shaherkani, who wears a blue belt, is believed to be the only judoka ever to compete in the Olympics without a black belt. Although she was knocked out in the first round, the obstacles she overcame to get there make her worthy of her place in history.

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