By Christopher Seward at the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
An Atlanta Muslim woman can now enter weightlifting competitions without worrying about attire that is too revealing after international rules governing uniforms were changed Wednesday.
The International Weightlifting Federation approved new guidelines that give women, particularly Muslim women, the option of dressing in attire that doesn’t leave their legs and arms exposed.
The IWF will now allow women weightlifters to wear a one-piece full-body tight-fitting “unitard” under the compulsory weightlifting costume. The unitard will allow technical officials to see and verify that lifts are being made, the organization said.
Weightlifter and Georgia Tech graduate Kulsoom Abdullah has waged a personal campaign to have the rules changed, pressing both the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Weightlifting to push for reforms. It was the USOC that urged the IWF to consider changes during a meeting in Malaysia this week.
The change paves the way for Abdullah, who had been barred from competing nationally because she insisted on covering most of her body, to enter more events. The 35-year-old woman, who holds a doctorate in electrical computer engineering from Tech, competes in women’s senior weightlifting division.
“I’m really happy that it happened,” Abdullah said Wednesday. “I’m really thankful for the support that was out there in the public.”
Abdullah argued her case before the USOC in the form a video production that suggested alternative attire that Muslim women could wear during competitions. She said she will begin training and will register for an upcoming Iowa weightlifting competition she thought she would not be able to enter.
“The one advantage to all of this is that it raised a lot of awareness,” Abdullah said. “I hope it [the changes] will help with other sports that other [Muslim] women participate in.”
The IWF said issues similar to those raised by Abdullah had been on the the governing body’s radar.
“This rule modification has been considered in the spirit of fairness, equality and inclusion,” IWF President Tamas Ajan said Wednesday.
Abdullah is among other Muslim women athletes who have been blocked from national and international competitions because they insisted on modest dress. Iran’s women’s soccer team was recently disqualified during an Olympic qualifying competition against Jordan after athletes wore a full-body outfit with a head scarf. As a result, the soccer team will not be allowed to compete in London.
Abdullah, born in the U.S. to Pakistani parents, competes in the 48kg (about 106 pounds) and 53kg (about 117 pounds) weight class. She began weightlifting as an exercise routine a few years ago. “It was just something for fun,” she said. “It gave me something to achieve as a goal.”
She teamed up with a trainer and set her sights on competing, training five to six days a week. She entered competitions last year in Flowery Branch, Newnan, Gainesville, Savannah and South Carolina.
Abdullah, who moved to Atlanta from Florida in 1999, said she covered her body during those local competitions and met no resistance from local weightlifting officials.
She claims USA Weightlifting, one of the many sporting associations under the USOC umbrella, prevented her from participating in a December national competition in Ohio and would not allow her to compete in another competition in July in Iowa because she wanted to wear a hijab.
Abdullah’s plight has attracted the support of the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations.
“We welcome this important decision in support of greater inclusion in athletic competition and urge the representatives of other international bodies to take similar steps,” said Ibrahim Hooper, a CAIR spokesman. “We thank the United States Olympic Committee for helping to empower Muslim women athletes and for taking a stand in support of the American tradition of religious diversity.”
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