A historic moment has happened in the London Olympics. For the first time in history, Saudi Arabia has sent a women to the games. Wojdan Shaherkani, one of the two women sent, has already made her debut in Judo wearing a modified hijab.
Wojdan Shaherkani is only 16 years old; she competed against Melissa Mojica, a 28-year-old Puerto Rican ranked 13th in the world, so the fight only lasted one minute 22 seconds. Mojica quickly did a technique called a side-drop, in which she made Shaherkani hit the mat, so a knockout was determined by the judges. But the result of the fight was the less important thing; Shaherkani had already made history.
Wojdan Shaherkani in Judo and Sarah Attar, an 800-meter runner, are the only women the Saudi Arabian delegation has sent to the Olympics. This was not an easy decision for some of the country leaders. Along with Brunei and Qatar, Saudi Arabia had never sent a women to the Olympics. But now in London things are different, Brunei and Qatar have also sent women in their delegations; Qatar has sent four female athletes and Brunei has also sent their first female Olympian.
The decision to send women to the Olympics was taken at the last moment; the different leaders had a very intense internal debate. External pressure also contributed to the final decision.
One of the latest controversies was if Wojdan Shaherkani would be able to fight wearing a hijab. This was not an easy topic because Judo has a very strict dressing code. But in the end Saudi Arabia and international Judo federations agreed to let her compete with a modified hijab, so her debut was possible even with much negative pressure from her country. Hard-liners said she was dishonoring herself fighting in front of men.
Shaherkani, after the fight, said “I’m excited and proud to be representing my country,” although she was disappointed for her loss she is sure she will do it better in the future. We must consider that Shaherkani is only a blue belt in Judo that has been trained by her father for two years and she faced one of the most experienced Judo fighters in the Olympics.
The president of the Saudi Arabia Judo and Taekwondo Federation, Hani Kamal Najm, is very proud of her participation in the Olympics and said that “certainly it’s a good start, and hopefully it will progress from here onward.”