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

At Khmer Rouge Court, Long-Awaited Verdict Approaches

First phase of trial, which is coming to an end, has focused on forced exodus of Phnom Penh in 1975 - and now many are hopeful justice will be served More

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities More

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

Downing of Malaysian airliner, allegations of cross-border shelling move information war in war-torn country to a new level 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.
Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
July 31, 2014 8:13 PM
The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.

AppleAndroid