LONDON – The International Judo Federation says one of Saudi Arabia's first female athletes selected for the Olympics will not be allowed to wear a headscarf during competition.
Federation president Marius Vizer announced Thursday that Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani could not fight with a headscarf, saying the move was "according to the principles and spirit of judo." IJF spokesman Nicolas Messner said it was also due to safety concerns.
"In judo we use strangleholds and chokeholds so the hijab could be dangerous," Messner said. The Japanese martial art does not recognize differences in things like politics or religion and judges competitors only on their level of judo, Messner said.
Asian judo federations have previously allowed Muslim women to wear the hijab during major competitions, but Messner said the IJF had decided against it.
"The only difference between competitors should be their level of judo," he said, explaining that the grappling and throwing sport aims to be nonpolitical.
The ruling could jeopardize Shahrkhani's participation in the Olympics. Saudi leaders only agreed to send women to the games for the first time on the condition they be allowed to wear appropriate clothing for Muslim women, including a headscarf.
Shahrkhani was given a special invitation from the International Olympic Committee to compete in London. She has never fought at the international level before and has mostly been coached by her father, a judo referee.
Headscarves are allowed in taekwondo; the World Taekwondo Federation changed its rules in recent years to accommodate Islamic traditions. Some of the strongest Olympic medal contenders are from Egypt and Iran. But all taekwondo fighters also wear a headguard which covers any headscarves.
After previously banning headscarves on the field, FIFA, the governing body of soccer, now allows them.
Sarah Attar, Saudi Arabia's other female Olympic athlete, is expected wear a headscarf when she competes in distance running.