Sport for All: Hijabs at the Olympics

For many Olympic athletes, religion and sporting attire are separate thoughts entirely. However, a growing number of Muslim women athletes are experiencing greater freedom in sporting regulations when it comes to religious dress.

This post will use the term "hijab" to mean the headscarf most commonly worn by Muslim women that covers the head but not neck and face. For a more detailed explanation and the differences between veils, please see this article.

Ibtihaj Muhammad will be the first US Olympic athlete to wear a hijab at the Olympic Games. Ibtihaj will be competing in fencing, which is a sport she chose due to the uniform that already traditionally covers the head. Though she is the first US Olympian to wear a hijab, there are others who precede her from other countries, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia

Due to changing regulations (both within the Olympics and countries like Saudi Arabia), there is expected to be a movement towards more Muslim women competing in the Olympic Games and thus the need for more tolerance surrounding traditional religious wear. Not all Muslim women are required to wear the hijab; many wear it as a religious symbol of their own accord. FIFA regulators once believed that hijabs were a safety concern; however, that was later debunked and hijabs are now allowable in the game of soccer. Additionally, the movement has already beget a trend towards new womens' sports clothing lines that carry a "sports hijab" to encourage more young women to compete.

This story, among others, is an important marker in the changing nature of the Olympic Games. More women competing at the international level is an important step towards visibility of women in sport. There are countless barriers that can stand in the way of a young Olympian competing in the Olympic Games; this should not be one of them. 

Stay tuned for the next post in two weeks which will follow the Olympic torch!


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