x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Olympics: Talks over headscarf issue

Ban from wearing hijab puts Saudi woman's participation in doubt but official optimistic about agreement ahead of her competition.

Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani, left, is one of two female athletes to represent Saudi Arabia at the Olympics this year. Marwan Naamani / AFP
Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani, left, is one of two female athletes to represent Saudi Arabia at the Olympics this year. Marwan Naamani / AFP

LONDON // Olympic and Saudi Arabian officials are in talks with judo chiefs to find a solution after the sport's governing body ruled the Saudi's female competitor would have to fight without a hijab, or Islamic headscarf.

On Thursday, the head of the International Judo Federation (IJF) president, Marius Vizer, confirmed Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani, one of the first two female athletes sent to the Olympics by the conservative Muslim kingdom, would not be allowed to wear a hijab.

Shahrkhani is due to compete in the women's heavyweight tournament on Friday, and her participation could now be in doubt.

"We still have one week. She is still scheduled to compete, there's no information that she won't compete," IJF spokesman Nicolas Messner told Reuters. "We still have time."

He said talks were underway between the Saudi Arabian National Olympic Committee, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the IJF to attempt to resolve the issue.

He did not elaborate on how this could be achieved but said there was "very good collaboration".

Mark Adams, an IOC spokesman, confirmed there had been a meeting on Thursday.

"It was a positive discussion and we are confident a solution will be found," he said. Asked what that solution would be, he said: "there are a range of options."

No one from the Saudi delegation could be reached for comment.

However, a Saudi official had told Reuters earlier this month they expected that the women would have to obey the dress code of Islamic law. He gave no further details, but other conservative Muslim countries have interpreted this to mean a headscarf, long sleeves and long pants.

Vizer told reporters that Shaherkani would fight according to "the principle and spirit of judo" and thus without a headscarf.

Shahrkhani, who will compete in the 78-kg category in judo, and teenage 800-metre runner Sarah Attar were the first Saudi women allowed to take part in the Olympics after talks between the IOC and the country.

The decision to allow female Saudi athletes to compete at London was praised by the IOC president Jacques Rogge at the time.

"This is very positive news and we will be delighted to welcome these two athletes in London in a few weeks time," Rogge said in a statement earlier this month.

Saudi Arabia were one of three countries, alongside Brunei and Qatar, never to have sent female athletes to the Olympics but the latter two confirmed earlier this year that their delegations would include women.

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