Saudi Arabia made history on Friday after Wodjan Shahrkhani became the country’s first female competitor at the Olympics. Although still a controversial issue for the ultraconservative kingdom, the 16-year-old was able to participate in the judo match ? even as some Islamic clerics claimed she was discrediting herself by fighting in front of men. The bout was not broadcast on Saudi state television or many Saudi-owned satellite channels, but it is unclear if it was due to the conflict surrounding Shahrkhani.
What’s more, because the match occurred during the main prayer in Saudi Arabia, many people did not watch her compete live. However, some Arab satellite sports channels did show her match. Her supporters in the crowd and at home voiced their appreciation.
?It is beautiful that she played and in front of people and proved her presence and stated that Saudi women are not all servants at home,? Saudi activist Wajeha al-Huwaidir said. Al-Huwaidir had initiated a campaign before the 2008 Beijing Olympics to encourage female participation.
Even after Shahrkhani was given Olympian status, it was uncertain if she would compete. The International Judo Federation (IJF) initially prohibited her from fighting while wearing a headscarf. Shahrkhani, her father and Saudi officials agreed, however, that she would not participate without one. On Monday, the International Olympic Committee, Saudi National Olympic Committee and IJF reached an agreement on a particular design for the headscarf. Ultimately, Shahrkhani wore a white judo robe and had a black cloth tied firmly around her head on Friday.
Saudi Arabia?s move toward equality needs improvement. Neither Shahrkhani nor Sarah Attar, the other Saudi female athlete, appeared in a photo taken of Saudi Olympic officials and the Saudi male competitors. Some Saudis also continue to criticize and label both women ?prostitutes.?
As for the match itself, within 82 seconds, she was defeated by Puerto Rico?s Melissa Mojica.
But, she is still an inspiration: ?It?s going to give hope to so many
young women,? Saudi Alaa al Mizyzen said.