The Games are governed by the Olympic Charter, based on universal values, and each member of the Olympic movement swears to observe it. The Olympic oath proclaims that the goal of the Games is to "to contribute to building a better world". Any form of discrimination is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic movement, states the Charter, which commits itself to "implementing the principle of equality of men and women".
Female participation in the Olympics was won only after a long and arduous struggle. Women were barred from the first modern Games in Athens in 1896. Despite this, a woman called Melpomene ran the marathon from its birthplace (in Marathon) to Athens on her own and was cheered by the public. Progress thereafter was painfully slow: women were allowed to compete in a few Olympic swimming and diving events, and in archery, but it was not until the Amsterdam Games of 1928 that they were finally permitted to participate in athletics.
The disregard of Olympic Charter rules with regard to religious symbolism has been evident for some years. At the official closing ceremony in Athens in 2004, Egypt's most famous swimmer Rania Elwani, newly elected as a member of the IOC Commission of Athletes, was photographed wearing the Islamic headscarf and standing next to the president of the IOC below the Olympic flag.
Before the Youth Olympic Games in Singapore last year the Iran Football Federation requested that Iranian female players be permitted to wear the hijab and were initially refused by football's world governing body Fifa, citing the Olympic Charter. Eventually, after much persuasion, Sepp Blatter, president of Fifa, accepted the Iranian demand on condition that the hijab did not extend to cover the neck.
Maryam Namazie, an Iranian feminist based in London, is a founder of One Law for All, a campaign against the use of Sharia in Britain. She is "appalled" at the non-application of Olympic Charter principles in relation to women. She argues that men-only delegations should be excluded and the IOC should not support the Iranian games devoted to Islamic women only. "Allowing women to be veiled and segregated at the Olympics is like telling black athletes to compete in a separate arena," she says. "Separate is nothing short of unequal and defeats the whole purpose of the Olympics."
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