Saudi Arabia: Saudi’s First Female Olympians are not alone as Trailblazers

Whether either win a medal or not, I am so very proud of Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shaherkani and Sarah Attar.  These two Saudi women are trailblazers and go down in history as Saudi Arabia’s first female Olympians.  They are setting a precedent and a legacy for other Saudi women to follow.

Their presence at the London 2012 Summer Olympics exemplifies the strength, determine, resolution and proud spirit of the Saudi woman.  They also illustrate that it’s not only okay to pursue athletic challenges but give the best example of the importance of physical exercise to the Saudi people.  Their presence should further emphasize the importance and strong need for physical education in schools for women as well as the need for female fitness and training centers around the Kingdom.

Yet, the world should not be surprised that Saudi Arabia has competent female athletes.  For example, one only needs to look at the drive and dedication of the all female Jeddah United Basketball team.  I hope to see them participating in a future Olympics.

Additionally, on a subject very near and dear to my own heart, a group of Saudi women led by HRH Princess Reema bint Bandar al Saud trekked to the Mount Everest Base camp earlier this year towards raising awareness of breast cancer.  The Saudi women ranged in age from 25 to 50 years old.  Each of them had been impacted in some way by breast cancer in their own lives whether as a breast cancer warrior or having someone close and dear to them battling the hateful disease.  Achieving this lofty goal required dedication, discipline and a rigid training regime.  They made their goal as the world cheered them on.

Saudi women are strong, intelligent, dedicated and more than capable of achieving any goal for which they strive.


60 Responses

  1. This is indeed great news! I read in the papers the other day that olympic committee has okayed a saudi female to participate in judo with the headscarf on. Good luck to Team Saudi …

  2. Yay! I’m happy for them!

    The above link is Sarah Attars official facebook page
    the links below are When Sarah is competing

  4. Good luck to the Saudi ladies!

  5. Yay for Saudi women! And more good news is for Wojdan Shaherkani, the KSA judoko who is allowed to wear hijab while competing!

  6. And personally I think it’s a very bad thing that the IOC caved on the head covering.

  7. good luck to the lady , I hope to go she doesnt get into a chokehold with someone an deasy access to her hijab. If she wants to take the risk , i guess it’s her choice. but i hope she advances well and wins something.. nothing like a shiny medalto show the saudi women in great light 🙂

  8. Wendy, one woman has the power to change the rules of a sport.
    You have totally missed the point that the world (that is the rest of humanity) has asked Saudi Arabia to join us, and let Saudi women participate in the global society…in this case…sport. The Saudis have yielded on the side of women’s rights, and human rights, and opened their society to us in the form of athletes (teeny weeny baby steps but nevertheless).
    Understand too, that none of the women, including those from free nations have a choice in what they are wearing. They MUST wear the team uniform…and this women in particular…spoke out to be just a little different. She asserted herself enough to ask the ICC if she can wear her headscarf as a part of her uniform in competition.
    You…claiming to be a person of independence, should look at her as an example of independence…and be happy that she spoke up.
    As I have said before…the rules are changing, and not just for sport. I think this is something you have to get used to…or simply be left behind

  9. i hope she advances well and wins something.. nothing like a shiny medal to show the saudi women in great light..radha, i loved that comment and agree wholeheartedly!headscarf and all! 🙂

  10. I suspect that the variation of headcover will not go around her neck. And I also believe one woman should NOT have the power to change the rules of sport. But these rules are still evolving- because it hasn’t been and issue in the past. And I would also argue that the hijab WAS part of her uniform. It just didn’t meet the international safety standards- and all other teams did.

  11. As I said in my earlier posting on this topic, I am real happy that saudis have allowed women to participate in olympics for the first time. However, I also feel that their participation is far from groundbreaking. It is one small step for “a” woman, one giant leap backward for womankind.

    Changing the rules on headscarves, I feel, is ridiculous. We need to stop changing rules because someone claims their religious beliefs forbid them to abide by the rules. Religion should have NO place in sports. None whatsoever. It has ruined so much else in human existence.

    Accommodating the warped salafi/wahabi sect of islam is encouraging oppression of women. I feel so sorry for these women. What oppressive, archaic and ridiculous customs they have to endure.

  12. I’ve heard that there has been concern that these women will be harassed and persecuted once they return to Saudi. Has any one heard anything more about this? I suppose we have to wait and see.

  13. Harassed for what? being the best in their chosen task, having talent, determination , willing to put in extra effort and hard work???

    I hope they are lauded medal or not, made an example of excellence and a role model for young girls , i hope win or lose they get enough publicity so as to make a few other girls want to reach out and go to the olympics.. They may not be the best int he world or even insaudi but working towards that goal is in itself a feat that not everyone can manage.

    As an example of my 2 kids – both were excellent in studies, my son excelled in it and music and did was was required, my daughter on the other hand tok on track and practised like her life depended on it, in addition to studies and music, she didn’t win but i always tell her – her willto try and work towards something that is outside her realm of expertise is in itself laudable, she could have done what came best to her and had a fab life yet she tried. went out of her way and worked so i always rate her spirit a tad bit highert than my sons..
    likewise win or not these women took the chance to go and that’s a giant first step.- hijab or not.

  14. In my American culture, women are of course lauded for excellence in athletics but Saudi is so different.

    I heard second hand of a Saudi man in the US who met a Saudi women working in a store. He later told an American he considered her impure. Of course this is weird to us but reality (at least to some) in Saudi Arabia. I hope these women do not face backlash when they return home.

    I’m pretty neutral on the headscarf except if it protects the Saudi athletes from incrimination, I’m all for it.

  15. Mrs B, Firstly, Saudi was NOT asked to participate. They were told that if they excluded women they would NOT be allowed to participate.
    Second point …one woman needs to grow up and realize that to participate in something maybe SHE needs to conform. We certainly don’t need uniforms changed to accommodate Saudi. Women from other Islamic countries seem to be able to participate without asking for special privileges.

    Yes, there have been very nasty comments coming from Saudi regarding the Judoko girl. She is being called a slut and worse. Just got to love the Saudi mentality don’t we?

  16. I would not be surprised if kosher or at least pork free food is available at the Olympic Village. That’s no different than the scarf thing. I do agree sports should not compromise with safety. But they may have found a way. I understand new-style hijabs were created for soccer. I do think the women should have a choice about wearing it.

    Sarah Attar lives in California where I’m sure she won’t face backlash. The other girl from Mecca might in some quarters. There was already the twitter hashtag about Olympic Prostitutes or some such. Whats nice for a change is supporters for these women apparently overwhelmed it with positive commentary, once they heard about it. These women are first and at the beginnig of a big transitional phase. They’lll get it from both sides. Her father has been super supportive however- and that will help a lot.

  17. Hijab is not part of the judo uniform.The judo uniform is a sort of white pajama, with the belt of your level. No shoes, no head covering.
    So maybe rules evolve, but I am tired of Muslims always complaining, always whining, always wanting the rules, rational safety rules, changed just for them.

  18. Food is an entirely different matter. Many athletes don’t eat pork or even meat for that matter and there have certainly have been Muslims participating in Olympics for years and years and years without hijab issues. As I say over and over again … Saudi is special. I don’t mean it in a good way either.

  19. Wendy you wrote ” Saudi was NOT asked to participate. They were told that if they excluded women they would NOT be allowed to participate”.

    Some people in saudi are against the participation of the Olympic entirely whether for men or women. They are inspired by Jamey carter who in 1980 declared that the US will boycott the Moscow Olympic 1980 unless Soviet Union withdraw thier soldiers from Afganistan. Saudi Arabia follow America and boycotted the 1980 Olympic. Today United kingdom is doing same as Soviet Union was doing in the the 1980s regarding Afghanistan, and some people in Saudi argue that the UK should be treated same as Sovit Union was treated and that by boycotting the London Olympic 2012.

    It is a world full of wonders, the US boycott Moscow olympic because of Soviet presence in Afghanistan and today the US is doing the same. Just feel sorry for Afghan people.

  20. History of Modern Olympiads In A Nutshell:

    Yesterday – Halal Meat

    Today – Halal Hijab

    Tomorrow – Separate but equal Halal facilities: segregated opening ceremonies; segregated stadiums/sports venues; etc etc etc.

  21. Yes, I know the Judo uniform has no scarf- I meant the team Saudi uniform. Just like the swimsuits change and evolve- and the track and field uniforms- i don’t mind scarves evolving as well. There are other scarved women in the Olympics. It shouldn’t be a big deal- if there is a safe adaptation. However, it should be done and resolved well in advance. It shouldn’t be such a drama.

    And why are dietary accomodations for religious beliefs a different thing entirely? They are not. Maintaining a kosher food supply at the Olympic Village is not a simple thing to arrange.

  22. Here’s the thing, Sandy. Everyone can eat halal chicken and meat, even Christians and athiests, so maybe the whole darn menu is halal. LOL!!!

  23. Maybe- but it’s not, I already checked.

  24. And yes, they are providing Kosher food which is more complicated than Halal.

  25. I have been taking lessons in judo and twd, for personal safety reasons. I don’t have any belts or anything like that, but I know a little bit about the sport. First, I think we need to stop changing rules in the middle of the game because someone claims their religious beliefs forbid them to abide by the rules.

    Apart from that, the major worry is traumatic injury because of hijab. A choke-hold would be interestingly probable. The headscarf being worn in the match makes it a perfectly viable grapple target, but the way it wraps around the neck and brings the possibility of say a bruised or even crushed trachea and so on.

    What it amounts to, ultimately, is a voluntary self-imposed handicap and serious health risk. An opponent can strangle its wearer easily. But I hope she doesn’t complain when it is used against her. In judo, you grab the Gi (cloth) so she is only giving her opponents a hand-hold.

    BTW, I just don’t see how Shaherkani is a “trailblazer” for woman everywhere. Competing in judo with a hijab on is unsafe – no ifs, ands, or butts. Unsafe not only to Shaherkani, but, also to her opponents. Also, looking at her pics, it appears that she is bit sumo-overweight for judo sport.

    But saudis and her can take comfort in the fact that no guy is going to see her hair and go nuts, so there’s that :)-

  26. I am somewhat mildly floored by the amount of prejudice against ONE woman being allowed to participate but still retaining her identity in a sports event that should be about DIFFERENT nations coming together in the name of sport. A few here have the same problem as Mr Romney so beautifully expressed in his description of the difference between the economy of the Palestinians and the Israelis.
    Ignoring ALL other factors that contribute to the disparity, Romney claims that ‘culture’ is the only reason.
    Perhaps you are seeing that your ‘culture’ is simply being displaced by a more global and universal set of standards. The woman from Saudi Arabia asking if she can wear a headscarf in competition is a sign that your way is no longer the norm. The headgear of this woman is like an anti flag, and it represents fear of change.
    Sports like anything else evolve. Were you upset when they changed the rules for baseball and other sports and let African Americans play? Since well that was a pretty serious rule change from whites only. Olympics involve countries and cultures around the world. This means it has to be all inclusive. That’s the point.
    Rules are always changing to accommodate all kinds of people as long as it doesn’t affect others. Why does this bother you so much? This change is not just for her but for all those who wear hijab. People underrepresented can finally join! This is great news! Plus about safety, you’re prejudging. You haven’t even seen it. “It’s a hijab of a specific design” that’s allowed. Asian judo allows it in their event (judo is from Asia anyways) If it was that easy to pull off, then they wouldn’t allow it. If Saudi Arabia, a country so bigoted could evolve, then it is funny that independent-minded people are so resistance to change. Thankfully the IOC are more equipped with common sense.

  27. You need to accept that a lot of rules are changing, not only in sport, in short order, in this world. We as humanity are part of a dynamic cultural shift, and what was the ‘standard etiquette’ before, is no longer valid. You and others like you will have to actually compete for participation in the world…like Wojdan did, and modify your attitude to contribute to a global society…like she does. Perhaps that is the real issue here, fear of change.

  28. Rosemary said ” Also, looking at her pics, it appears that she is bit sumo-overweight for judo sport.”

    She is competing in the Women +78kg round so logically, she should seem robust!Does +78kg sound anything like a slim model-ish?Why oh why…?

  29. It’s really sad that a piece of superstitious cloth is considered a woman’s ”identity”
    I think women have more substantial assets which make up their ”identity”.

    I am afraid she won’t get very far. The Olympics isn’t just a kid’s game. The athletes at the Olympics are the best of the best. As far as I know all competitors are black belt and she is only a blue belt, and as she was only trained at home by her father I suppose her father gave her that blue belt. I think she is completely unprepared for what is coming up, everything is new and unknown to her, the other competitors have had years of training, competition, and international travel and competition behind them.
    And most of them come from normal healthy societies.
    I am worried she will be made fun of at home if it turns out she does very badly, which would be totally unfair. I think she’s very brave to take this on. Or very ignorant. Whatever it is, she has been put to an impossible task and she should always be commended for trying her best.

  30. @Aafke,
    I have to say I am puzzled at her inclusion. It seems like such a sloppy slapped together job. But I hope she does respectably well and isn’t hurt. I also hope she is well received when she returns.

  31. I would be quite slim if I were 78 kilos btw. But she is competing in the ”heavyweight class” so what do you expect?.

    I googled it, and most top women in the ”heavyweight class” look pretty solid to me. I do think Shaherkani doesn’t look very healthy, she came up a lot in the search, and maybe the lighting on the photos was bad but her skin does not look healthy. I do so hope this will be a good experience for her, not a bad one.
    I really think she has so many cards stacked against her, that no matter what happens, nobody can or should be allowed to put her efforts down.

  32. Sandy, it seems from many nasty comments that she is already judged. And she’s really just a child, only 16, I think whatever happens she’s really cool!
    And yes, it does seem to me the whole thing is very sloppy.

  33. You must be very tall Aafke. I am 165cm and when i was in my third trimester of pregnancy I became 78kg. I had a big baby also mashallah.

    Anyhow, i like the look of Wojdan. And for what its worth, she is a very brave young woman!

  34. hi. sort of related to this thread, i have always wondered why some countries win more medals than others. i always thought the bigger a country’s population, for example, the bigger its pool of potential athletes and thus more medals it will win. but my naive reasoning was shattered after reading couple of articles earlier today.

    according to huffington post (my favorite online paper btw), ranking nations by total olympic medals isn’t really the best way to judge relative success. some countries have a lot more people — or a lot more money — than others. with 530 athletes representing the united states and just two on behalf of somalia, context is important.

    huffpo has an interactive map by each sport and each country which illustrates what medal count looks like when population and gross domestic product is taken into account. here is the huffpo link (hover on each country and sport to see more details). blessings ..

    Not really on topic. Please stay on topic.</strong>

  35. hi. in another related bbc article, they discussed a “predictive model” using gross domestic product and population. using population and gdp, “winningness” and factoring in the hosting advantage, the article “predicts” the usa will come top of medal tally with 99, russia will come second, china third and britain fifth with 45. blessings …

  36. As I thought- her hijab didn’t go around her neck. Also- her opponents ponytail was more likely to be grabbed than her own haircovering. Well done Wojdan- may you inspire others- and even yourself to greater athletic achievement!

  37. What a strange headline. She did not “bow out” – she lost her match as was expected. And she says she wants to come back again- hopefully better prepared.

  38. Seems it was symbolic. She bowed out as she didn’t fight or counter-attack it seems. I must admit I did not see the match though.

  39. Wendy- not really sure what point you’re trying to make. She was an inexperienced blue belt- way out of her league. It was never expected she would mount some aggressive attack, or counter-attack. Just stay in as long as she could. She didn’t lay down or run.

  40. Win or lose she went and that’s all that matters in my book. Maybe next time 3 women will go. No country can start off with a gold . Great job and a milestone indeed

  41. I would say, no athlete who hasn’t been practicing for most of their life, who have been though years of international competing, who have been expertly and professionally coached, by the very best coaches, stands a chance.
    It’s the Olympics for Pete’s sake!
    I think she already showed great courage by entering.

  42. Wendy, I read the news articles, very interesting. They describe nothing else but a grossly under qualified teenager having the enormous courage to stand up in an Olympic arena, facing a vastly superior fighter, and still managing to smile, and trying her best.
    If they had an Olympic medal for sheer guts in the face of overwhelming opposition she would be going home with a medal.

    She only started two years ago!
    It makes me wonder though, could they really not find any other woman in Saudi Arabia who was slightly more qualified in whatever sport than this baby?

    That head covering/hijab thingy btw could never be dangerous. It’s silly, but not dangerous.

  43. Such ado about nothing. She could have been wearing that cap from the get-go rather than have a major discussion/debate about it in London.

    She was brave and I just wonder what kind of privilege her family has that she was thrown into this position. So many concessions made by the IOC to have her appear. She was definitely a ‘wild card’ entrant.
    I’m not sure this will open the door for other Saudi women. It seems to be it was just political posturing by KSA. I do hope she doesn’t get a bad time when she returns home.

  44. a grossly under qualified teenager having the enormous courage to stand up in an Olympic arena, facing a vastly superior fighter, and still managing to smile, and trying her best.
    If they had an Olympic medal for sheer guts in the face of overwhelming opposition she would be going home with a medal.

    I second that Aafke, a gutsy young woman indeed! A trailblazer in her own right! We feel s proud of you Wojdan, you represented the underrepresented and you did it with a strong determination despite all the prejudice stacked against you!

  45. I read the news article Wendy presented and the writer’s style seem more suited for a gossip column rather than professional unbiased newsworthy article. Sarcastic lines such as:

    1.She also managed to smile—heaven knows how.
    Why shouldn’t she smile?

    2.Yet there she was, “suitably dressed” with the “male accompaniment” of her older brother, Hassan Ali Seraj—as if a 80kg judoka needs someone to guard her honour.
    It is normal to have loved ones there to cheer for you, plus she was a minor.

    3.A medal. Right.
    Terrible journalism.

    A proper journalism

  46. I’m not sure what is worse…refusing to allow women to participate in the Olympics..or finally “giving in” and choosing some random teenager not qualified in her field…just to shut up the critics. Now they can say…see..we sent one and she couldn’t perform…because women can’t and shouldn’t compete in sports. I’m waiting for it. It’s like using that one car accident that Saudi lady got into couple of years ago as an example as to why ALL Saudi women cannot and should not be allowed to drive.

    Good on her tho for doing her best. A learning example and a memory to cherish if nothing else.


    Published on The Weekly Standard (

    Saudi Women: A Force to Be Reckoned With
    Ali H. Alyami
    August 1, 2012 3:59 PM

    For the first time in the history of the Olympic Games, Saudi women are being allowed by their ultra-conservative government to compete. As the Saudi athletes marched in the opening ceremonies in London, the women’s faces and open arms showed a joyful sense of emancipation from the yoke of political, religious, and traditional marginalization. By the standards of free and advanced societies, the advance is small, but by Saudi standards, it is a gigantic step forward, with far-reaching implications for Saudi Arabia and the international community.
    Saudi women’s evolving willingness to assert their rights has been a game-changing development of recent years. Known for their resilience and ability to cope with institutional repression, Saudi women are saying enough is enough. Rising levels of education and access to communication tools like the Internet have made them better informed than ever before. They are organizing and unabashedly pursuing their rights despite the attendant risks of harassment by the morals police, arrest, and interrogation. A few have been briefly imprisoned.
    Women’s right to drive cars and to be treated equally in employment are among the most hotly contested issues in Saudi Arabia today. Women are also pressing for improved educational facilities, a modern curriculum that respects the contributions of women, and the removal of the male guardian system, which requires them to have the accompaniment or written approval of a male relative for travel, schooling, employment, and some medical treatment. One recent success is the requirement that department stores selling lingerie replace salesmen with female sales staff, an advance in respect for women and a new source of jobs.
    Yet resistance to change remains fierce. In September 2009, for instance, King Abdullah announced that, after consultation with senior clerics, he was allowing, women to vote in municipal elections and become eligible for appointment to the national Shura Council in 2015. This symbolic step—the elections are largely cosmetic and the Shura Council lacks substantive power—deeply divided the country’s political and religious authorities. One senior cleric, Sheikh Saleh al-Lohaidan, in a rare public display of dissent, accused the king of lying: He denied the clerics had been consulted.
    The House of Saud and the tightly controlled religious institutions it represents remain at odds over to how to deal with women in the 21st century, with the religious establishment adamantly opposed to change. In an attempt to maintain support among their indoctrinated followers, Saudi religious institutions continue to use arcane religious textbooks to advance the notion that women are inferior to men.
    Yet all indications point to the ultimate triumph of modernity over Saudi men’s gender paranoia, as women steadily gain strength, support, and recognition, at home and abroad. Their success seems to be the only hope for positive change in Saudi Arabia, and it will benefit the international community as well, by undermining the religious establishment and the lethal doctrines it propagates around the world. Inexplicably, the international community—notably Western democracies that have been targeted by Muslim extremist and terrorist groups—takes little notice of Saudi women’s struggle. Strong Western support for Saudi women—like those spirited athletes in London—is another development that is long overdue.
    Ali H. Alyami is executive director of the Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia.

  48. Excellent article, Ali! I will take it to heart.

  49. Wojdan Shaherkani : At least she participated. she is so Brave and deserving.

    I translate a summary of the video :

    “She was not the only one to hide her hair but it is about her that the media spoked a lot.

    She and her parents agreed she appears without hiding her hair but the governmental authorities refused.

    she was certainly pressured and she is only 16 years old”

  50. Nassima, pls do not make up stories. her father and Wojdan herself refuse to participate if she had to remove her hijab.

  51. MrsBawazir,

    please, don’t accuse a person without having read well his comment.

    I said “I translate a summary of the video”

    I don’t make up stories, as you said, I just translate and I remain neutral.

    TF1 : French TV
    News Channel 5

    Your link proves nothing, mine either. I have no idea about whom says the truth.

  52. Nassima, I apologize for the harsh accusation.As for the French tv, I can’t say I’m surprised. Secular fascism at it’s finest.

  53. Nassima,

    You are exactly right! There are invariably more than one version to a given story in the free press in the free west, and readers have choices which version(s) they want to believe in. Unlike the govt controlled press in muslim countries, there is only one authorized version. Now that’s Islamo-fascism and Islamo-totalitarianism at its best.

    BTW, I clicked on yours and your husband’s website. I find it quite progressive, refreshing and forward-looking; unlike many other muslim websites that I have frequented. Although I don’t know any french, one of my geek friends directed me to the babylon website, which translates an entire website into many languages. Keep up the good work!

  54. X-Moozlum, I would not have thought to translate the website but thanks to you I have now done it!

  55. x:

    Thanks, my french has gotten terrible due to a lack of use.

  56. @mrsbawazir,

    Apology accepted.

    @x-Moozlum, Wendy, and bigstick1,

    thank you for the interest you have for our site “ZERO ET INFINI”
    to translate you can use REVERSO, it gives more possibilities than Babylon.

  57. Thanks for the clip on a Saudi women’s basketball team playing informally. That’s great. It needs to be shown more often to a broader audience of women worldwide….especially those in the West who refuse to call themselves a feminist.

  58. Newsweek: Far from revered, the Kingdom’s first female athletes are ignored or insulted at home, writes Qanta Ahmed. Saudi Olympic Athletes Test Kingdom’s Dedication To Gender Apartheid

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