x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

New dress code for females opens weightlifting up across Muslim world

The UAE was the first team to compete at an international competition while wearing hijabs.

UAE'S Weightlifter Yasmin Yousef trains at the Al Shabab club in Dubai. Satish Kumar / The National
UAE'S Weightlifter Yasmin Yousef trains at the Al Shabab club in Dubai. Satish Kumar / The National

DUBAI // The Emirates Weightlifting Federation believe the UAE is leading the way for females across the Islamic world, after becoming the first team to compete at an international competition while wearing hijabs.

The national women's team earned a place at the London Olympics when they participated at the Asian Championships in South Korea last month.

All six members of the team competed wearing lightweight headscarves, as well as body-length unitards.

Until recently, the rules governing the sport stipulated uniforms had to be collarless and could not cover elbows or knees, essentially because judges need to see that a competitor's elbows and knees are locked during a lift.

However, those dress regulations were modified by the International Weightlifting Federation, after being challenged last year by a Muslim American who wanted to wear Islamic dress while competing in US national competitions.

Officials at the governing body for the sport in this country, who were vocal advocates for the change, insist the amended dress code will open the sport to a whole new audience.

"It was a decision which will help the whole Islamic world," said Sheikh Sultan bin Mejren, the president of the Emirates Weightlifting Federation.

"Now there is no difference between Muslims and non-Muslims in events like the Olympics. There is no border to accept them or not. Everybody can participate without breaking rules."

The UAE initially targeted female weightlifting as an area where they could make their mark in international competition, when they adopted a new strategic plan to develop the sport four years ago.

They have achieved one sizeable triumph already by being granted a qualifying place for the Olympics later this year.

However, the most significant mark they have made to date may be measured less by medals or trophies, as by the trail they have created for aspiring female lifters to follow.

"We were the first country for our athletes to be covered, wearing Islamic dress," said Jassim Abdulrahman Al Awazi, a board member for the Emirates Weightlifting Federation and the GCC Weightlifting Organisation.

"It is very good for Muslim countries that this issue has been raised. It is not forced, it is a choice for the athletes if they want to wear it.

"Now it has been opened to everyone. If you want to join, why not? Now there are no excuses, no reasons to say no."

pradley@thenational.ae

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