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Over 80 Muslim Olympians bag medals

27th Aug 2021
Over 80 Muslim Olympians bag medals

Photos: Tunisan teen Ahmed Hafnaoui provided the first shock when he won the 400-m freestyle with a PB time of 3:43.36, Netherlands Sifan Hassan became the first athlete in history to win medals in 1,500m, 5k and the 10k in the same games (Credit: Mustafa Yalçın/Anadolu Agency) and Galal Yafai won team GB’s only boxing gold medal when he captured the men’s flyweight title (Credit:galal_yafai/Twitter)

Elham Asaad Buaras

An estimated 85 Muslim Olympians have won 89 medals in the Tokyo Games, a marginal drop from the 2016 Rio Games, which produced 97 Muslim medallists, according to an exclusive analysis by The Muslim News. Muslim Olympians won medals in 14 of the 33 sports featured in the Games.

Newly introduced karate produced 12 Muslim medallists. Despite the dip in the number of Muslim medallists, the number of Muslim women medallists continues to rise. 23 Muslim women secured medals in Japan, an increase of two from Rio. In contrast, only eight Muslim women won medals at the Beijing Games thirteen years ago.


Unlike their male counterparts, several Muslim women became multi-medallists in Japan with the mantle of “the most successful Muslim Olympian” at the Games going to Dutch middle-and long-distance runner Sifan Hassan who secured a hat-trick of medals over the 1,500, 5000 and the 10,000 metres. Hassan’s feat makes her the first athlete (male or female) to win three medals in these events at the same Olympics.

Hassan spent her teenage years as a refugee in the Netherlands, where her family had moved from Ethiopia in 2008 when the star was 15 years old. Speaking about the difficulties she faced as a child, she told The Guardian, “I think all of us, nobody has a perfect life. I tell people that when life is hard, you will see yourself like you never imagined before. Never give up.”

Another multi-medallist is the USA’s reigning 400 metres hurdles world champion, Dalilah Muhammad, who won silver in the event and gold with her teammates in the 4-by-400 metres hurdles relay.

The third Muslim multi-medallist, Yulia Zakirovna Karimova, bagged two bronzes in shooting (50m rifle three positions and mixed 10m air rifle). Karimova participated as a member of the Russian Olympic Committee team due to international sanctions against Russian sports. Karimova is one of 12 Russian Muslim medallists in Japan, tying Turkey as the country with the most Muslim medallists. They are followed by Kazakhstan (eight medals) and Iran (seven medals).


Team GB

With 65 medals won and a fourth place finish overall, the Games were one of Great Britain’s most successful tournaments. As Sir Mo Farah failed to qualify for the marathon this summer, Muslim representation for Britain was left to Galal Yafai (boxing) and Mohamed Sbihi (rowing).

In an all-action battle, Yafai defeated Filipino Carlo Paalam to win the men’s flyweight title, capturing GB’s only gold medal of the Games.

The youngest of three fighting brothers, he became the 17th British boxer in history to win a gold medal, joining the likes of Anthony Joshua, Nicola Adams, James DeGale.
Yafai had one of the biggest welcomes with family and members of his boxing club running to congratulate him as he arrived at Heathrow Airport.

Birmingham-born of Yemeni stock, Yafai has modelled his fighting style on another boxing pioneer with roots on the Arabian Peninsula, Prince Naseem Hamed, who held multiple world featherweight titles between 1995-2000.

In the men’s eights, rower Mohamed Sbihi,who is of Moroccan heritage, added to his bronze medal from London 2012 and a gold medal from Rio 2016 to his impressive collection of medals.

The 33-year-old made history by becoming the first Muslim to carry the British flag at the opening ceremony of the Olympics. “To know I’m the first person of Muslim faith to have this role and duty is a very proud moment,” he said. “We need more representation, and hopefully, this starts that process of getting young Muslim kids involved in all types of sport.”

North African history makers

Feryal Abdelaziz, 22, has made history for Egypt after winning a gold medal in the women’s karate Kumite 61 kg + event. Abdelaziz’s historic achievement came after she defeated Azerbaijan’s Irina Zaretska 2-0 in the final event of the tournament.
Abdelaziz’s achievement marks the first time an Egyptian woman has won a gold medal at the Olympic Games.

It is also Egypt’s eighth ever gold medal at the Olympic Games since 1912 and Egypt’s first gold medal since the 2004 Athens Games.
The hijab-wearing athlete, who first took up karate at the age of seven in Cairo, had earlier in the day defeated Sofya Berultseva of Kazakhstan 5-4 in the semi-finals.
In swimming, Tunisian teenager Ahmed Hafnaoui caused one of the biggest stirs of the Tokyo Olympics with a stunning 400m freestyle gold medal and recorded a personal best (PB).

The 18-year-old summoned a thrilling last 50 metres to come home in 3 minutes 43.36 seconds to overhaul the Australian Jack McLoughlin, who took silver, and American Kieran Smith, who won bronze. What made the Tunisian’s performance even more impressive was that his PB at the start of 2021 was six seconds slower at 3:49.90. While he had improved that to 3:46.16 in the build-up to Tokyo, he was still ranked just 16th in the field.


The participation of Israeli athletes in Tokyo, and the decision of whether to compete against them, was a major point of discussion.

Algerian judoka Fethi Nourine and his coach have been suspended by the International Judo Federation and will face disciplinary action after withdrawing from the games to avoid a potential clash with Israel’s Tohar Butbul in the under 73kg competition.

“We have worked hard to qualify for the Games, but the Palestinian cause is bigger than all that,” Nourine said.

“My position is consistent on the Palestinian issue, and I reject normalisation, and if it costs me that absence from the Olympic Games, God will compensate.”

A second judoka, Sudan’s Mohamed Abdalrasool, dropped out of the competition too before facing an Israeli opponent.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabian judoka Tahani Al-Qahtani faced Israel’s Raz Hershko in the women’s 78kg plus competition after Saudi commentators urged their athletes not to withdraw. Qahtani eventually lost the bout 11-0.

The debate about boycotting Israel was further ignited when taekwondo athlete Avishag Semberg returned to active duty in Israel’s military just days after winning a bronze medal.

She was lauded by the Israeli Defence Forces social media accounts and showed off her medal at the army headquarters in Alon, an illegal Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank.

There was also controversy over the inclusion of Iran’s marksman Javad Foroughi after he won a gold medal in the 10-metre air pistol event.

Six-time Olympic medallist Jin Jong-oh of Korea criticised the International Olympic Committee for allowing 41-year-old Foroughi to compete, citing his membership in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to compete: “How can a terrorist win first place? That’s the most absurd and ridiculous thing.”

In comments reported by the Korea Times, they added it was “pure nonsense” to allow Foroughi to compete in the Tokyo Games given his membership in a militia of the IRGC, which was labelled a terrorist organisation by the US in 2019.

The campaign group United for Navid, set up after the execution of the Iranian wrestler Navid Afkari after he protested against the his country, has also urged the IOC ethics commission to launch an immediate investigation. It also warned that the IOC was “complicit in promoting terrorism and crimes against humanity” if it failed to act. Foroughi, who has said he served in Syria as a nurse between 2013 and 2015, delivered a military salute on the podium.

Foroughi said he first tried pistol shooting in a hall located under the building of the hospital he was working in as a nurse. He had never seen a pistol before but, after being instructed on how to use it, was able to score approximately 85 points from 10 shots.

2020 Tokyo Olympic Games: Muslim Medallists


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Over 120 people attended a landmark conference on the media reporting of Islam and Muslims. It was held jointly by The Muslim News and Society of Editors in London on September 15.

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