An Olympic judo competitor from Saudi Arabia will compete without a headscarf when she fights in the women’s heavyweight tournament next Friday.
Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shaherkani is the first female judo fighter from the conservative Muslim country.
"She will fight according to the principle and spirit of judo, so without a hijab," International Judo Federation president Marius Vizer told Reuters Thursday.
Federation spokesman Nicolas Messner told The Associated Press that the decision was made due to safety concerns. “In judo we use strangleholds and chokeholds so the hijab could be dangerous. The only difference between competitors should be their level of judo,” Messner said.
The move to block the hijab may surprise some in the conservative country. Reuters said that a Saudi official told the news agency earlier this month that they expected the women would have to obey the dress code of Islamic law including wearing a headscarf.
Saudi Arabia only agreed to send a women's team to London on condition that their two athletes respect a strict dress code, reports AFP. Top sports official Prince Nawaf bin Faisal reportedly told local daily Al-Jazirah both of the female athletes would be allowed to compete "wearing suitable clothing that complies with sharia."
Shaherkani and American-raised runner Sarah Attar are the first two Saudi female athletes to compete in the Olympic Games after negotiations between Saudi Arabia and the International Olympic Committee. Attar appears in her official Olympic photo without a headscarf.