IWF changes rules to accommodate Muslim clothing beliefs

Mechele R. Dillard's picture

Weightlifter Kulsoom Abdullah scored a victory for women and her faith today, with a decision by the IWF to allow Muslim women to wear more modest attire during U.S. competition.

Kulsoom Abdullah, a 35-year old female weightlifter, challenged the uniform rules of the International Weightlifting Federation, citing religious beliefs, and won.

Abdullah challenged the rule that required weightlifters to wear a “singlet” uniform in competition. Abdullah said that her Muslim beliefs do not allow her to wear the singlet, which would not cover enough of her body—basically everything but her hands and face.

"It's what I believe in. It's what I've chosen to do," Abdullah told CNN earlier this month. "I've always dressed this way publicly," she said, referring to her modest dress.

Abdullah, who holds a doctorate in electrical and computer engineering, can deadlift 245 pounds and get up 105 pounds in the snatch (when the athlete takes the barbell from the floor to over her head in one motion). She typically competes in the 106-pound or 117-pound classifications. She says she simply enjoys competing in the sport.

"It guess it's empowering," she told CNN. "There's a lot of technique involved, so someone who's this big muscular person -- it's possible I could lift more than they do. There's speed and timing to it -- you have to be explosive. I think it's great just for confidence building ... I guess I got hooked."

Abdullah, who lives in Atlanta, wanted to take part in some tournaments governed by IWF rules, which require athletes to wear the standard singlet—officially referred to as “costumes”—which is collarless and does not cover the elbows or knees.

Mark Jones, a spokesman for the U.S. Olympic Committee, explained to CNN that judges need to be able to see that an athlete’s elbows and knees are locked during the lift, so they cannot be obscured in any fashion. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) contacted the USOC on the matter.

"I think their (CAIR's) language is to 'advocate' on the athlete's behalf with the international federation, and we have done that," Jones told CNN. "The Olympic movement is all about the universal values of equality. We value that greatly, but we also respect the rules of sport -- especially those set forth for competitive reasons. So we're looking to see if there's some way to accommodate -- not just this one particular athlete," he said. "This is an issue that has some wider implications."

The IWF agreed to put the issue on the agenda for its next meeting, which was held in Malaysia this week. The body agreed today to modify the clothing rules to accommodate Muslim women competing for the United States, the Associated Press reported. "The modified rule changes permit athletes to wear a one-piece, full-body, tight-fitted 'unitard' under the compulsory weightlifting costume," IWF vice president Sam Coffa said. This will allow the judges to see the elbows and knees, as is necessary.

"I am hopeful for more participation in sports for women," Abdullah said in a press statement. "I have a positive outlook on getting costume details finalized for Olympic Lifting competitions. Additionally, I hope other sporting organizations will follow example to allow greater inclusion and participation in their respective sport. One example is FIFA's disqualification of the Iranian women's team."

Abdullah was referring to a decision by FIFA to refuse to allow Iran’s women’s soccer team to wear headscarves while playing in an Olympic qualifying round in Amman, Jordan.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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