AMID all the stories about great Olympians this week it was sad to read that the first-ever Saudi Arabian woman to compete, Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani, will face public ostracism when she returns home. Not because she failed to win a medal at judo but simply because she competed in the games at all.
In fact, Shahrkhani did all she could to meet the medieval standards of the ultra hardliners back in her home country, who have accused her of wearing figure-hugging clothing (if you can call a thick, baggy judo suit that), and bringing shame on herself and her family by competing in front of men.
Her modified head covering was agreed upon by Saudi and Olympic officials and it’s quite clear from the photographs of the event that she couldn’t have been more covered up if she’d tried.
It’s also clear that she was being used as a token female by a government that ruthlessly suppresses women and was trying to avoid sanctions over fielding a male-only team. She was the only judo competitor who did not have a black belt and has only been practising the sport for two years.
Shahrkhani may not have won any medals for sport but she certainly deserves one for pluck.
The Arab nation’s only other token female was Sarah Attar, who was generously applauded when she competed in the 800 metres running heats. But Attar is of dual nationality, a student in Los Angeles, and, therefore, much less likely to be subject to the same level of hostility as her teammate.