Judoka barred from Asian Para Games for wearing hijab

30th Nov 2018
Judoka barred from Asian Para Games for wearing hijab

Aqila Mumthaz

A visually impaired Judo player was disqualified from competition shortly before her match at the Asian Para Games in Indonesia for refusing to remove her hijab.

Indonesian Miftahul Jannah, left in tears on October 8 after she had trained for 10 months to compete in the 52 kg category of the competition, only to be informed of the rules that were decided during a technical meeting only a day before which required her to uncover her head. The referee told her with the exception of medical bandaging, competitors were not allowed to wear headwear of any kind during their matches for safety reasons.

Miftahul, a national champion, told the South China Morning Post, “Whatever the risk, I will not remove the hijab, I’m feeling sad, yes, because I trained hard for the past 10 months, sometimes working so hard that I couldn’t even move my hands. But after all that, this is the result [disqualification]. The decision is made.”

Indonesian National Paralympic Committee (NPC) President, Senny Marbun, apologised for the incident saying it was due to NPC’s negligence. “On behalf of the NPC, I apologise for this very embarrassing incident which was unexpected for Indonesia. I admit that the NPC is guilty because after all the NPC must know everything. Actually, the regulations were there, but it was the coach who didn’t want to ask about it.”

He added that the ban should not be viewed as an act of discrimination but an issue of safety. Some judo manoeuvres might choke an athlete wearing a head cover, in this case, a hijab, he said. The risk could be twice as high in this case, since the athletes competing had visual impairments, he said.

He added, “The misunderstanding occurred because Miftahul’s coach was not fluent in English and made a mistake when reading the rules and regulations.”

Coach Latif said the home camp pleaded with organisers to allow Miftahul to compete, “We tried to fight for her case. The only reason for this rule is safety, they said.”

Controversy ensued as to why the prohibition was put in place after previous contenders in other Martial Arts such as Karate and Taekwondo were allowed to participate.

However, the rules for Judo are different to other martial arts as in judo athletes compete in closer proximity compared with Karate or taekwondo. The use of strangleholds and chokeholds in judo has been cited to be more dangerous for those wearing the hijab.

In 2012, Wojdan Shaherkani, a 16-year-old Saudi Arabia Judoka, grabbed headlines after London Olympics officials said she was not allowed to compete wearing the hijab. Three days after negotiations, the IJF allowed her to compete using a modified hijab, a tight-fitting, cap-style covering.

Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), the country’s senior Islamic body, urged officials to amend the rule as it was discriminatory and according to MUI Deputy Chair, Zainut Tauhid Saadi, it was “not in accordance with the spirit of respect for human rights.”

After the incident, many Indonesians rallied to support Miftahul on Social media expressing their admiration for her decision to not remove her hijab.

The country’s House of Representatives members rewarded Miftahul with an Umrah trip to Makkah. Miftahul appreciated the gift saying, “I sincerely appreciate it and would like to say thank you to whoever rewarded me an Umrah ticket. I am truly elated. It personally feels like a gold medal for me since I failed to participate in yesterday’s match.”


[Photo: Opening ceremony of 2018 Asian Para Games, Indonesia. Photo: Farsnews.com website, which states in its footer, “Fars News Agency is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Photographer: Mehdi Bolourian]

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