By Tales From a Hijabi FootballerToday was the 2012 Olympic Games Opening Ceremonies. The Parade of Nations has always been my favourite part as it humanizes the Olympics and lets us see the different teams express their excitement. Dreams will be realized and hopes will be crushed. It is also where inspiration and awe will burst out.The Parade of Nations is about the athletes. It’s about respecting their communities and uniting people under the umbrella of Fair Play and Love of Sport. To carry the flag ahead of a country is an undeniable honour.
I was quite excited to see so many strong, talented women lead the charge into the stadium.More thrilling was, how many predominantly Muslim countries (12 in fact: Tajikistan,Qatar, Morocco, Indonesia, Turkey, Jordan , Iraq, Djibouti , Comoros , Brunei , Bahrain , Albania ) had selected women as flag bearers.These phenomenal athletes must fight through the physical rigors their chosen sport. They must train, focus, balance home life, studies, work, family and community involvement. Some must undoubtedly navigate through a system of discrimination with a lack of understanding and support.I’m a footballer. I wear hijab and openly identify as a Muslim. But, I live in a country where my participation in open sport is allowed and fostered. No doubt, I am privileged.
Flag bearer Mavzuna Chorieva from Tajikistan, had to enter competitions using her brother’s identification and cutting her hair short because a female boxer was unheard of. She hid her identity to have access to a sport she loved.Maziah Hussain of Brunei, is the first hijab-wearing athlete to represent her country. So is Bahia Al-Hamad of Qatar. Both women beamed with pride as they led their countrymen through the parade. In fact, they are of the first women to be allowed to participate from their homelands.To see these women carrying their flag with so much grace and dignity is enough to make any women’s heart burst with joy.
Muslim countries represented at these games have historically faced much scrutiny. Their male vis-à-vis female team ratios may have been quite low. They have always been critiqued for lack of inclusion of women and rightfully so. They may also be from a region currently embroiled in war, political insecurity, poverty and ingrained systems of patriarchy . Saudi Arabia is sending two women as part of their National Team. It has been getting a tremendous amount of press as the announcement was made very recently.From a country where women can not yet drive, a young woman , Wojdan Shaherkani, will represent her nation in Judo- if she is allowed to compete with her hijab.However, the issue in this case isn’t whether the athletes wear hijab or even practice Islam. It is that these women they are strong enough and talented enough to make an Olympic Team. Representing Muslim nations that adhere strictly to tradition and may not always be open to women participating so openly is a huge step and one that deserves recognition. These athletes are shattering assumptions and are demanding to give their best.
It is an honour to watchThat 12 women have been selected to be at the forefront of the world’s most watched sporting event, is unprecedented. They are being recognized for their athletic achievements and potential while their heritage is celebrated. It illustrates that the world can be a place of encouragement, acceptance and inspiration.And it has room for brilliant athletes, Muslim women included. This is a virtue that I cling to and hope that my daughter and her daughters will defend.As these athletes are showcased globally, Muslim women flag-bearers, are blazing trails and sprinting in the right direction – to the podium.