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Got it covered: Bahrain's Roqaya al-Gassra at the Beijing Olympics (AFP) 

As London prepares for the Olympics next year, a number of Islamic countries are deciding whether or not to send female participants and, if so, what they can and cannot wear. The two issues are closely connected. 

At the Opening Ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Games, 14 delegations included women wearing headscarves, who went on to take part in such sports as athletics, shooting and football. Yet the Olympic Charter clearly states that neutrality in sports is crucial and that "no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted on any Olympic sites, venues or other areas". In preparation for London, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) looks set to continue breaking its own rules in an attempt to appease Islamists, prompting secularist women's groups to threaten protests about gender apartheid at the Games. 

The number of countries sending men-only delegations has decreased — from 35 in 1992 to three in Beijing (Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Brunei) — but lately, as more and more Islamic countries agree to send women athletes to the Olympics, there has been a significant increase in the wearing of headscarves or other types of clothing designed to cover the body for reasons of "modesty".

A Canadian sports hijab retailer, ResportOn-Sports, claims on its website that its products "allow Muslim women to conciliate their religion with their practice of sport". In the build-up to the London Olympics it has received requests for information regarding its products from almost 200 participating country representatives. 

Iran has even hosted a separate event for female athletes. At the inauguration of the fourth (and, it would appear, final) Women's Islamic Games in Tehran in 2005, IOC President Jacques Rogge congratulated the organisers for "inviting women from across the globe to compete in the ongoing games".

The IOC was first persuaded to exempt Islamic countries from the Charter rules as a result of lobbying by Iranian officials after the first Islamic Games in 1993. These games, organised by the Islamic Federation of Women's Sport (IFWS) are segregated: no men (or members of the press) are allowed except during the opening and closing ceremony when the women are wearing the hijab. IFWS claims that the event abides by the Olympic Charter, although because separate games for women result in gender apartheid, it clearly does not.

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July 18th, 2012
11:07 AM
I've never felt comfortable about women having to cover up. The issue of choice masks the fact that many Muslim women are 'choosing' to cover up because they still feel under intense pressure from their Country to make their rulers look good. Their families, the Mosques they attend and the laws they live under, which are heavily influenced by male religeous doctrines, all heap even greater pressure on women. One only needs to look at Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban. Many women immediately started leaving home without their headscarves. If I felt women were making a completely free choice to wear a headscarf I would welcome that but it's very clear to me these are, in no way, free choices.

June 6th, 2011
8:06 AM
Je partage tout à fait les points de vue présentés dans l'article "The Great Olympic" de Julie BINDEL. Il est très important que le mouvement Olympique ne cède ni aux injonctions et chantages des intégrismes ni aux sirènes des marchands du temple. Il n'y a absolument pas besoin de modifier la Charte Olympique. Il suffit que le CIO fasse respecter l'application de l'article 51 de sa Charte. Toute perspective de modification présenterait le risque de voir la Charte adaptée pour satisfaire aux désirs des Etats non respectueux de la dignité et de la liberté des femmes comme des hommes. Les fédérations sportives internationales édictent des règles vestimentaires pour leurs compétitions qui, en principe(*), sont établies pour permettre la meilleure qualité et sécurité de mouvement et de pratique. A ces fédérations et au CIO de faire respecter ces règles. (*) Certaines règles vestimentaires, notamment pour les sports féminins, cf Beach volley et badminton, destinées à rendre les joueuses plus sexy et donc plus attractives pour les médias, sont elles aussi à condamner.

Ian Townson
June 5th, 2011
4:06 PM
The West Knows Best pontificating on liberal/radical values for the uncivilised world. The same values that now have muslim women arrested in France for wearing a veil.

Bernice Dubois
June 5th, 2011
3:06 PM
Former comments have made it sufficiently clear that there is no islamic requirement whatever for wearing even the smallest head scarf, let alone anything else. Given this fact, and it is a fact, the Olympic Committee is in flagrant contradiction with its own Charter. (In fact, even if their were any religions requirements for dress, the Olympic Charter would not allow their being applied in the Olympic stadium. So their kowtowing is sheer cowardice and political "correctness". It makes a mockery of Olympic principles and we should not allow these to be so flouted.

Ian Townson
June 5th, 2011
1:06 PM
It doesn't follow that women who wear the hijab, niqab or burqa are necessarily oppressed. Look at what has happened in Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen. Many of the active participants in the revolutions are women who are not in the least inhibited or obstructed in their activities by wearing headscarves or veils. In Yemen women revolutionaires are actively pushing the men for not being revolutionary enough! The muslim women I have met in this country struck me as being lively, intelligent, well-educated, opinionated and playing an active part in social and political life. These are not the hall marks of oppression. We should think again about propagating 'universal' values from the West-Knows-Best perspective. After all 'Enlightenment' values in France now see muslim women resisting arrest and fines for wearing the veil of their choice. This is about human rights not just about sexual inequalities. It is up to those women to make their choice not up to us to pontificate and the struggle for sexual equality for me can only happen alongside wider struggles for freedom and liberty not in isolation. As for the Olympic Games being non-political. Come on. Every time a flag is raised this is one Nation State proclaiming its determination to compete and defeat its enemies. To paraphrase George Orwell "War without the bullets."

June 1st, 2011
6:06 PM
Wearing the hijab is not essential to the faith. The Koran only requires that women AND men dress modestly. That does not require the hijab or even a headscarf.

May 28th, 2011
7:05 PM
Interesting article. This is a tricky one, IMO the determining factor is whether wearing the hijab is essential to the faith. If it is, then insisting an athlete remove it, is itself a political statement. For the record wearing a crucifix is not a requirement of Christianity.

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