Sportsmen and sportswomen at Olympics are not supposed to make political statements. Yet, the participants are continuously pumping out several impactful political statements for the better world. In fact, even Olympics committee is positively engaging in political statements by allowing the refugee team to participate in the games, thereby highlighting the plight of refugees.

One of the highlights of this Olympics is the ongoing debate about the freedom for the women to wear the dress of their choice rather than dictated by the sports authorities on what they should wear. It is no secret that, female athletes are forced to expose in order to improve the television viewership, fetching millions from advertisers. Majority of the female athletes across the world have accepted and compromised to expose their bodies in order to participate in the sport. A recent example of this sexploitation of women is the dress designed by Nike for women tennis players at Wimbledon. Several female athletes criticised the dress as they felt uncomfortable playing tennis with such a dress.  There is a study titled “Bump, Set, Spike: An Analysis of Commentary and Camera Angles of Women’s Beach Volleyball During the 2004 Summer Olympics” published by Journal of Promotion Management that concluded “More than 20% of the camera shots were found to be tight shots of the players’ chests and just over 17% of the shots were coded as buttock shots, which, it is argued, leaves viewers with lasting memories of players’ bodies rather than of memories of athleticism”. So, clearly, women were being made sexual objects.

Volley Ball match between Egypt and Germany. Image Credits: Reuters/Dailymail
Volley Ball match between Egypt and Germany. Image Credits: Reuters/Dailymail

However, Muslim women seem to have challenged the status quo of sport authorities, by demanding the right to decide what they want to wear. And it hasn’t been easy for them. They have been forced to back out from several tournaments, where the sport authorities (who are often men) didn’t allow them participate in the apparel of their choice. The Muslim women have stood their grounds. They have forced the apparel rules of the various sports to change. They have fought for the freedom of women. They have been the torch bearers of true feminism.

The Western Media Bias

Washington Post carried a story titled “Muslim female athletes find sport so essential they compete while covered”. For majority of the Muslims, the title of the article is misleading and highlights the western bias towards ‘covering up the body’. Western women believe that, showing skin empowers them and gives them a sense of freedom. Whereas the Muslim women believe that, covering the skin empowers them and makes them feel liberated from becoming a sexual object. Both the sides have argued their case.  However, the bottom line is that, the sport shouldn’t choose one ideology over another. Every individual must have the right to choose the apparel of their comfort, subject to the condition that apparel must not unduly assist the athlete to rig the game.

So, if the Muslim women want to wear Hijab and cover their body, they should be allowed to do so. The mere fact that, sport authorities across the world are debating about this reflect how regressive we are towards women rights.

But why is Western media so biased against giving rights to women to choose what they want to wear? The answer lies in the fact that, faith-based dressing of Muslim women in sport rises two flags when they win. They raise the flag of their religion along with the flag of their nation. Deep down, it bothers lot of westerners. One of the biggest regrets that majority of the western supremacists have is their inability to produce a religion that has obtained world-wide acceptance. In fact, the religion followed by majority of the westerners was founded by a Middle-Eastern and technically Palestinian man i.e. Jesus. Moreover, the teachings of Jesus have more in common with Sharia law of Islam than the modern western school of thought. So, you can imagine the insecurities faced by western supremacists when they see a lady in the Hijab, one her way to win Gold medal at Olympics!

Egypt's Hedaya Wahba fights France's Marlene Harnois (in red) during their quarterfinal round match in women's 57-kg taekwondo competition at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
Egypt’s Hedaya Wahba fights France’s Marlene Harnois (in red) during their quarterfinal round match in women’s 57-kg taekwondo competition at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Fighting on both fronts

There is also the need to address the fact that, there is lot of discrimination against women within present day Muslim society. Muslim women go through everyday struggle for full women rights across the Muslim countries at a macro level and within their families at a micro level.  The Muslim women who are competing today at a world stage have fought the biases both within Muslim society as well as discriminating policies set by sport authorities.

Ibtihaj Muhammad.
Ibtihaj Muhammad, First American female athlete to participate in Olympics wearing hijab.

The Battle Ahead

There’s still a lot of battle ahead of female Muslim athletes. They are still not allowed in several sports including popular sports like Basketball because of discriminatory rules. The story of American basketball player Bilqis Abdul Qaadir stands out. She wasn’t allowed to play professional basketball because the  International Basketball Federation (FIBA) prohibits head gear larger than five inches. There is still a long way to go for Muslim Women to obtain full acceptance in the society. But these women stand out as true inspirations for the youth and the generations forward.