News / USA

IWF Changes Dress Code Rules, Lets Muslim Weightlifter Compete

Kulsoom Abdullah competing at a 2010 Open Championship in the US state of Georgia
Kulsoom Abdullah competing at a 2010 Open Championship in the US state of Georgia

Multimedia

When Kulsoom Abdullah started weightlifting three years ago, she never thought she would be the first headscarf-donning Muslim American to compete in the USA National Weightlifting Championships - America’s most prestigious weightlifting competition.

What fueled Abdullah’s doubts and set her apart from fellow competitors was her dress code. As a devout Muslim, she chose to wear modest clothing - long-sleeved T-shirts and loose pants – garb that didn’t conform with official competition rules.

But the Atlanta, Georgia, native was given her chance in late June when the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF), in response to a challenge by Abdullah, modified its competing rules to allow tight-fitting, body-length unitards for the first time.

Watch the interview with Kulsoom Abdullah:

Game changer

Now, weightlifters who participate in competitions organized by any IWF member organizations worldwide – not just in the U.S. – can choose to participate in uniforms that cover their arms and legs.

As a result, Abdullah, on top of being probably the only PhD in electrical and computer engineering who can “deadlift” 111 kilos, today qualifies for national championships while wearing a headscarf and long sleeves.

Kulsoom Abdullah preparing to compete
Kulsoom Abdullah preparing to compete
"Weightlifting is an Olympic sport open for all athletes to participate without discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, age, or national origin in accordance with the principles of the Olympic Charter and values," says IWF President Tamas Ajan. "This rule modification has been considered in the spirit of fairness, equality and inclusion."

The IWF’s decision is a bold move considering its former rules stipulated that “costumes” had to be collarless and couldn’t cover elbows or knees; the rules even specified how high socks could go and how much skin bandages could cover.

 

Follow-up report from the competition by Tala Hadavi:

Against other odds

The rule change did not come in a vacuum. A few weeks before the IWF’s decision passed, the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) banned the Iranian women’s soccer team from competing in a pre-Olympic game against Jordan, and the Quebec Soccer Foundation fired a Canadian female teen referee. Both governing bodies pointed to headscarfs and untraditional clothing as violating competition rules.

“Those are preposterous outcomes … A woman should be able to participate in sport and abide by her faith; those two things are not mutually exclusive,” said Gadeir Abbas, the staff attorney with the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) who had been working on the case of the Canadian referee. At the same time, he praised the IWF for taking the lead on this issue saying its decision reflects well on its leadership.

Rules as “works in progress”

John Duff, chief executive officer of USA Weightlifting, said modifying the competition rules for inclusivity was already on the IWF’s agenda. But he also stressed that rules are never set in place to discriminate.

“The [original] rules were not discriminatory in any shape or form. The rules are the rules, and every federation that is a member organization of the international federation complies and follows those rules,” he said. “They aren’t set for a particular country or a particular nationality or people or place…Every country and everybody who participates in the sport follows it.”

IWF officials have repeatedly emphasized that the headscarf by itself was never a concern. But, as Duff pointed out, rules are generally there to prevent athletes from gaining an unfair advantage by using extra material to hide a support mechanism on a joint, for instance. He explained that long clothing could make it difficult for judges to determine whether an athlete’s elbows or knees are locked.

Kulsoom Abdullah sporting a medal she earned at a 2010 Open Championship in the US state of Georgia
Kulsoom Abdullah sporting a medal she earned at a 2010 Open Championship in the US state of Georgia
USA Weightlifting – a member organization of the United States Olympic Committee governed by the IWF – had the same concern. The organization informed Abdullah she could not compete in the December 2010 national tournaments because covering her arms, elbows and knees violated IWF rules.

An appeal from Abdullah and CAIR prompted an IWF technical committee to debate the dress code rules in Malaysia during the last week of June, ahead of  July championships. The debate ended up paving the way toward a change in the rules.

Abdullah as trailblazer

While conceding that some clothing could be used to mask certain body parts and manipulate performance, Abdullah ended up putting together a 43-slide presentation to demonstrate to the IWF how, in her case, judges can see her joints even through a long-sleeved, tight-fitting unitard or looser singlet.

CAIR’s Abbas said that Abdullah essentially won this fight on her own.

“Kulsoom was her own best advocate, she’s an iconoclast: a PhD in electric engineering that can deadlift 150 pounds over her head…. She was a uniquely capable person to push for change,” said he.

Abdullah’s case was the “textbook example of how it should work,” said Abbas, adding that if the IWF had rejected her appeal, it would have amounted to discrimination.

“When… an organization is adhering to [an] old rule to exclude someone new that wants to participate, the failure to adjust is indicative of a discriminatory mindset,” he said.

Abdullah, who now looks forward to competing in the National Weightlifting Championships later this month, says unfortunately many Muslim women get caught in a vicious cycle of stereotypes.

“It’s a shame because the Muslim world is being criticized – they say you’re oppressing women or not empowering them… and then when a woman chooses to cover and participate, it’s also seen as a problem.”

Abdullah says she hopes her case will be an example for other female athletes who choose to dress modestly while competing in any sport, regardless of their faith. As for people adverse to change – she calls on them to try to keep their minds open about it.

You May Like

After Kenyatta Setback, ICC Struggles to Move Ahead

Collapse of the case against Kenya's president, other setbacks are fueling a debate about International Criminal Court's effectiveness and relevancy More

Video Conservationists Use Science to Preserve Rare Species of Rhino

With just five northern white rhinos left in the world, caretakers hope reproductive science may be able to preserve the gene pool More

Video Opening Trade With Cuba Bittersweet for Some

Long-time Cuban exiles in Miami say news is double-edged for those who had to leave everything behind More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Islamic State Emergence Transforms Syria and Iraq in 2014i
X
December 23, 2014 7:28 PM
The emergence of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria as a potent force in early 2014 changed the dynamics of the region. Their brutal methods - including executions and forced slavery - horrified the international community, drawing Western forces into the conflict. It also splintered the war in Syria, where more than 200,000 Syrians have died in the conflict. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell looks back at a deadly year in the region -- and what 2015 may hold.
Video

Video Islamic State Emergence Transforms Syria and Iraq in 2014

The emergence of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria as a potent force in early 2014 changed the dynamics of the region. Their brutal methods - including executions and forced slavery - horrified the international community, drawing Western forces into the conflict. It also splintered the war in Syria, where more than 200,000 Syrians have died in the conflict. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell looks back at a deadly year in the region -- and what 2015 may hold.
Video

Video Massive Study Provides Best Look at Greenland Ice Loss Yet

The Greenland ice sheet is melting faster than predicted, according to a new study released in the Proceedings of the National Academic of Sciences that combines NASA satellite data and aerial missions. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the finding means coastal communities worldwide could be at greater risk, sooner, from the impact of rising seas.
Video

Video US Marines, Toys for Tots Bring Christmas Joy

Christmas is a time for giving in the United States, especially to young children who look forward to getting presents. But some families don't have money to buy gifts. For nearly 70 years, a U.S. Marines-sponsored program has donated toys and distributed them to underprivileged children during the holiday season. VOA's Deborah Block tells us about the annual Toys for Tots program.
Video

Video France Rocked by Attacks as Fear of ISIS-Inspired Terror Grows

Eleven people were injured, two seriously, when a man drove his car into crowds of pedestrians Sunday night in the French city of Dijon, shouting ‘God is Great’ in Arabic. It’s the latest in a series of apparent ‘lone-wolf’ terror attacks in the West. Henry Ridgwell looks at the growing threat of attacks, which security experts say are likely inspired by the so-called "Islamic State" terror group.
Video

Video Russian Moves Provide New Mission for NATO

Russia’s more aggressive military posture in Europe during the past year has pushed NATO to take new steps to strengthen its defenses, providing it, analysts say, with a much-needed new mission. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Jane Monheit Christmas Special

Chanteuse Jane Monheit sings the holiday classic “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and explains why it’s her favorite song of the season.
Video

Video Ugandan Doctors Aid Victims of Sudan's Civil War

In Sudan's state of South Kordofan, the number of amputees as result of civil war is in the thousands, but few have access to sufficient medical help. Adam Bailes recently visited the area and says a small team of Ugandan doctors has been providing remote help, producing new prosthetic limbs for those in need.
Video

Video US Business Groups Press for Greater Access to Cuba

President Barack Obama's decision to do all he can to ease restrictions on U.S. trade, travel and financial activities with Cuba has drawn criticism from some conservatives and Republicans. People who bring tourists to the island and farmers who want to sell more food to Cuba, however, think they can do a lot more business with Cuba. VOA's Jim Randle reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid