The head of the UAE taekwondo team has praised the sport's governing body after it allowed Mulsim women to wear the hijab at the forthcoming world championship. Master Zayed Hammad said the World Taekwondo Federation's (WTF) decision to allow headscarfs to be worn showed great appreciation of people's faith. "This is a very important step for the WTF and for Muslim women," he said.
"I don't think any other sport has shown this consideration for Muslim women. Women have competed in headscarfs before, but not officially. This is a very important change." The rule change marks a new era after headscarfs were banned from competition by the WTF in 2007 over concerns of the safety of wearing them under protective headgear. With the WTF decision overturned in January this year, the first formal rules on headscarfs are now in place, allowing women to wear the hijab in the Copenhagen from October 14 to 18.
The WTF banned headscarfs days before the 2007 world championship in Beijing, with some competitors then forced to pull out on religious grounds. Until then there had been no official guidelines on wearing headscarfs. Rules were relaxed for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where UAE taekwondo competitor Sheikha Maitha bint Mohammed bin Rashid made her Olympic debut. Although Sheikha Maitha is happy to compete without a headscarf, for some Muslim women the rule change is crucial.
"It is a women's choice, but for those who are not happy to compete without hijab they simply cannot compete at all if they are not permitted to wear one," said Hammad, who coaches Sheikha Maitha. "It makes no difference if a women wears a hijab under her protective headgear, it is not dangerous. This is an important decision as it will help encourage more Muslim women to take up taekwondo." The WTF technical committee chairman Dae Won Moon hopes the rule change will promote equality in international competition.
"This measure means that taekwondo is one of the few sports that treats women and men equally in the Muslim world," said Dae. "We believe that our respect for others' cultures and beliefs will allow taekwondo to enhance its status as an Olympic sport." While the UAE are yet to register competitors for Copenhagen, someone who has her sights set on international glory is 16-year-old Haya Jumaa. The youngster is training for the 2010 Youth Olympic Games (YOG) qualifiers taking place in Mexico in February, hoping to earn a chance to represent the UAE at the 2010 YOG in Singapore in August.
"She is the best young girl in the UAE at the moment. We are expecting great things from her," said Hammad, firstname.lastname@example.org