A step forward for Saudi women

Wojdan Shaherkani has become one of the first female athlete to compete at the Olympics.
Wojdan Shaherkani has become one of the first female athlete to compete at the Olympics. Getty Images Sport - Quinn Rooney

IT WAS over in little more than a minute, but it will go down as one of the most memorable moments of the London Games.

A young Saudi judo fighter's decisive defeat on the mat Saturday is being hailed as a victory for women in the conservative Gulf kingdom, a step that would have seemed unimaginable if thousands of fans at the sprawling Excel Center and millions at home hadn't seen it with their own eyes.

Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani was one of just two women competing for Saudi Arabia at the games, the first time the Gulf state has sent female athletes at all. And she was only able to compete in judo after a compromise between Olympic organisers, the international judo federation and Saudi officials that cleared the way for her to wear a modified hijab.

Even that was unacceptable to hardliners, who said she was dishonoring herself by fighting in front of men, including the male referee and judges.

The crowd roared as Shahrkhani stepped onto the mat for her fight against Puerto Rico's Melissa Mojica wearing judo dress and what appeared to be a tight-fitting black cap.

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Topics:  london olympics saudi arabia

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