The BBC reports that the first Saudi Arabian female to compete in the Olympic Games has had her moment in the sun. Wojdan Shahrkhani lasted not quite 90 seconds in her judo match against her Puerto Rican adversary, but she got there.
It doesn’t matter that Shaherkhani was invited by the Olympic Committee rather than having qualified through elimination matches. Given the sad state of Saudi female athletics – due to the negative social and religious views about women and sports and women and competition – that she made it to the games and competed is worth our applause.
Wojdan Shahrkhani became the first Saudi Arabian woman to compete at the Olympic Games when she took part in the +78kg judo competition in London.
The 16-year-old had been in the spotlight before her event began as judo officials said she could not wear a headscarf for safety reasons.
As a compromise, Shahrkhani wore a tight-fitting black cap for her bout with Puerto Rican Melissa Mojica.
Shahrkhani’s Olympics were short-lived as she was defeated inside 90 seconds.
The contest appeared to be an overwhelming experiencing for the Mecca-born teenager.
Despite only being qualified as a blue belt in judo, she wore the higher black belt to compete.
The two women engaged in a slow-moving fight, a tentative Shahrkhani on the defensive and seeming cautious about attempting to throw Mojica.
The bout ended when the Puerto Rican grabbed Shahrkhani with a secure grip on her collar and flipped her into a match-ending ippon.
Mojica said afterwards that everyone had a right to their own religion and should be given an opportunity in judo.
It didn’t matter that Shaherkhani had little chance of winning. Neither did the Jamaican Bobsled team when it entered the 1988 Winter Olympic Games in Calgary. The Olympics are a funny sort of thing. It’s one of the rare instances where simply showing up is enough to garner a credible amount of glory. Winning only adds to it.
The presence of two Saudi women in these Olympic Games will not suddenly change the way Saudi society approaches women’s athletics. Sports are still banned in Saudi state schools for girls. But a door to the possible has been opened. It’s going to be exceptionally difficult for the Saudi government to keep women out of future Olympic Games, and likely other international competitions. But it is up to other Saudi women, some still children, to push the door open wider. And that will assuredly happen.