Burden removed, Muslim woman will lift at U.S. Championships

Adbullah registers for competition a day after sport's officials approve dress code change

Kulsoom Abdullah

Kulsoom Abdullah at a recent competition (Courtesy Kulsoom Abdullah / December 16, 2013)

Kulsoom Abdullah didn't waste any time.

One day after the International Weightlifting Federation's Wednesday announcement it had made changes in the sport's competition dress code at her behest, the 35-year-old lifter from Atlanta registered for the U.S. Championships July 15-17 in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

"This is a great victory,'' she said in an email.

The IWF decision, made at its congress in Malaysia, is a victory for Abdullah, Muslim woman athletes, the United States Olympic Committee and the international federation.

Abdullah had been competing in clothing that respected Muslim ideas of female modesty but did not meet IWF rules because it covered her elbows and knees.  The sport's judges must see whether the knees and elbows are properly locked.

With the help of the Council for American-Islamic Relations, she made a proposal to the USOC for costume modifications that would respect both her religion and the rules.

(For more on her story, please click on the Blog I wrote earlier this month.)

Dragomir Cioroslan, the USOC director of international relations and an IWF vice-president, immediately succeeded in having the request put on the technical committee's agenda for the congress.  The technical committee agreed with the request and changed the rules, effective immediately.

``This rule modification has been considered in the spirit of fairness, equality and inclusion,'' IWF President Tamas Ajan said in a statement.

The IWF approved use of a tight-fitting unitard under the compulsory competition costume and said it has always allowed athletes to wear head coverings, as many Muslim women choose to do in public.  The only caveat is the barbell must not touch the scarf since it is considered part of the head, and contact between the barbell and the head is not allowed.

The unitard will allow judges to determine whether the proper ``lock out'' has been achieved.

"I hope other sporting organizations will follow this example to allow greater inclusion and participation in their respective sport,'' Adbullah said. "I am hopeful for more participation in sports for women."

She cited the example of the Iran women's soccer team.

The international soccer federation would not allow the Iran women's team to wear head scarves for an Olympic qualifying match against Jordan, having banned head scarves in 2007 on the grounds they could cause choking injuries.  The Iranis chose to forfeit the match.

Abdullah, a computer engineer with a Ph.D. from Georgia Tech, still is a novice lifter who likely will not contend for medals at the U.S. Championships.

But she and her sport have already won.
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