The father of Saudi Arabia’s female judo competitor at the Olympics has said his daughter will withdraw from the Games if the International Olympic Committee disallows her from wearing a hijab.
Ali Seraj Shaherkani, father of Wodjan, told Saudi-based al-Watan newspaper on Sunday that his daughter will not compete in the women’s heavyweight tournament next Friday if she is told to take off her headscarf.
Shaherkani said he believes his decision has the backing of the Saudi Olympics Committee.
Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shaherkani is due to compete in the +78kg judo category. A Saudi official said earlier this month that its female athletes would have to obey Islamic dress codes.
But last week, International Judo Federation (IJF) president Marius Vizer said Shaherkani would have to fight without a headscarf to comply with “the principle and spirit of judo.”
However, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has dismissed speculations that Shaherkani would be forced to withdraw from the London Games and even rumors that the whole Saudi delegation would do likewise.
IOC communications director Mark Adams insisted Sunday that the International Judo Federation and the Saudi delegation were working to find a mutually agreeable solution.
“Yesterday (Saturday) the key stakeholders involved got together and were talking,” he told AFP on Sunday.
“They were constructive talks. I read somewhere there was a threat to withdraw, as far as I’m aware that’s not true at all,” Adams said.
“We’re still very confident of a positive outcome. The best thing we can do is allow them to work that out and try to get the athlete to compete. They’re discussing that now, it’s an issue of the rules of the sport,” he added.
Sunday’s edition of Saudi Arabia’s al-Watan newspaper quoted Shaherkani’s father, Ali, as saying over the telephone from Britain that his daughter “will not compete in the Judo Games on August 3 if the committee insists that she removes her hijab.”
The father was quoted as telling al-Watan that he had not heard back from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on the matter.
Female participation in sports has long been a controversial issue in Saudi Arabia, where conservative Muslim clerics have said it is immodest and goes against women’s nature.
Until this year, Saudi Arabia was one of three countries, alongside Brunei and Qatar, never to have sent female athletes to the Olympics. Human rights groups urged the IOC to ban the countries from the Games unless they agreed to send women.
Saudi Arabia reached an agreement on the participation of Shaherkhani and Sarah Attar, an 800 meter runner, just two weeks ago after talks with the IOC.