One of the most exciting aspects of the Olympic Summer Games 2012 was that every participating nation sent in women athletes as part of their delegations. Media faithfully reported on the successes and stories of “hijab-clad” women participating in the London Games, the most prestigious sporting event the world of athletics has to offer.
Women who cover having a choice to participate in sport and represent their countries is definitely a global “win” for women and girls. They can be role models for active and healthy, provide leadership and mentorship, inspire and represent a truer sampling of the population. But does it also propel society’s obsession with hijab and Muslims women’s clothing?
Normalizing and including athletes who wear a headscarf, is important in the realm of sport, most of which has been dominated by athletes from privileged, Western countries.
Despite the attention, this was not the first Olympics in which Muslim women have participated nor have important history. There is quite a wonderful and relatively unknown Olympic and sporting history of Muslim women’s participation, dating back to mid-twentieth century. In fact, the first Muslim woman to win a gold medal was Nawal El Moutawakel, almost 30 years ago at the 1984 Summer Games in los Angeles. Ms. El Moutawakel is now an active and senior member of the International Olympic Selection Committee. There were also a large number of Muslimah athletes and first time Olympians (not all headscarf-wearing) with exceptional stories of determination, performance and passion for their sport. Amazingly, Turkey sent more female athletes to the 2012 Games than they did male athletes – most of whom do not wear a headscarf to compete.
However, there seems to be a bias from media and incessant focus on hijab-wearing athletes. [Read more...]