Women fighters back Saudi hijab decision

LONDON Tue Jul 31, 2012 9:30pm BST

Saudi Arabia's Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shaherkani gestures as she walks with the contingent in the atheletes parade during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium July 27, 2012. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett

Saudi Arabia's Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shaherkani gestures as she walks with the contingent in the atheletes parade during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium July 27, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Suzanne Plunkett

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LONDON (Reuters) - Top female judo fighters on Tuesday backed the decision to allow a Saudi athlete to compete at the Olympic Games wearing an Islamic headscarf, saying it would not bother them and would be good for women's sport.

Teenager Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shaherkani, one of the first two Saudi women chosen to compete at an Olympics, had threatened to pull out after the sport's governing body said she could not compete wearing a hijab because it was too dangerous.

After days of deliberation, a compromise was struck on Monday between judo chiefs, Olympic bosses and Saudis meaning she will now take part in the women's heavyweight section on Friday.

"I think it's no problem for us, it might be a problem for her. But I can't see why she shouldn't have it," Slovenia's Urska Zolnir, who won gold in the women's -63kg judo category on Tuesday, told reporters.

The appearance in London of Shaherkani, 16, and fellow teenage 800-metre runner Sarah Attar came after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) pressed Saudi Arabia along with fellow conservative Muslim nations Qatar and Brunei to end their ban on female participation.

"We all want judo to be more democratic and it would be a good thing if more women were allowed to practice judo," said France's Gervise Emane, the world champion who won bronze on Tuesday.

"So if this right has been given to her and it allows her to do more sport, so be it."

The International Judo Federation (IJF) said last week that its regulations forbade headgear because a fighter could be accidentally choked during the rough, physical contests in which strangling an opponent using their judo outfit is legal.

But a Saudi National Olympic Committee spokesman said on Monday they had agreed on an acceptable form of headscarf with the IOC and IJF.

"I don't think this would disturb us very much," Emane said. "It would possibly be a drawback for her when competing."

The IJF said it was pleased that a solution had been found.

"Working with the IOC a proposal was approved by all parties," it said in a statement. "The solution agreed guarantees a good balance between safety and cultural considerations."

(Editing by Ken Ferris)

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