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

N. Korea Sentences American to 6 Years Hard Labor

Matthew Miller's brief trial Sunday comes two weeks after 24-year old Miller and two other American detainees appealed to the US government to help free them More

Pakistan Rejects Afghan Criticism of 480-kilometer Border Trench

Military spokesman tells VOA the project is part of administrative and security measures taken to secure the mountainous border with Afghanistan More

Photogallery Typhoon Kalmaegi Makes Landfall in Philippines

Storm makes landfall late Sunday, cutting power and communications lines and forcing people to flee to higher ground 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.
Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interesti
X
Henry Ridgwell
September 12, 2014 8:35 PM
The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Washington DC Mural Artists Help Beautify City

Like many cities, Washington has a graffiti problem. Buildings and homes, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are often targets of illegal artwork. But as we hear from VOA’s Julie Taboh, officials in the nation's capital have come up with an innovative program that uses the talents of local artists to beautify the city.
Video

Video Palestinians Turn to Rebuilding Gaza

After almost two months of conflict in Gaza, Palestinians are preparing to rebuild the isolated Mediterranean enclave with assistance from abroad. Meanwhile, an international human rights group has found that Israel likely violated international laws of war during some of its attacks on Gaza. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video US Muslim Leaders Condemn Islamic State

Leaders of America's Muslim community are condemning the violent extremism of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. Muslim leaders say militants are exploiting their faith in a failed effort to justify violent extremism. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Middle Eastern Church Leaders Highlight Christians’ Plight

Patriarchs of Eastern Rite churches came to Washington this week to draw attention to the attacks against Christians in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East. VOA’s religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Americans' Reaction Mixed on Obama Strategy for Islamic State Militants

President Barack Obama’s televised speech on how the United States plans to “degrade and destroy” the group known as the Islamic State reached a prime-time audience of millions. And it came as Americans appear more willing to embrace a bolder, tougher approach to foreign policy. VOA producer Katherine Gypson and reporter Jeff Seldin have this report from Washington.
Video

Video Authorities Allege LA Fashion Industry-Cartel Ties

U.S. officials say they have broken up crime rings that funneled tens of millions of dollars from Mexican drug cartels through fashion businesses in Los Angeles. Mike O'Sullivan reports that authorities announced nine arrests, as 1,000 law enforcement agents fanned out through the city on Wednesday.
Video

Video Bedouin Woman Runs Successful Business in Palestinian City

A Bedouin woman is breaking social taboos by running a successful vacation resort in the Palestinian town of Jericho. Bedouins are a sub-group of Arabs known for their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Zlatica Hoke says the resort in the West Bank's Jordan Valley is a model of success for women in the region.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid