First Saudi Woman Competes In The Olympics

Wojdan Shaherkani (Photo: Chang W. Lee/The New York Times)

Women in Saudi Arabia still can’t drive, but today Wojdan Shaherkani became the first Saudi woman ever to compete in the Olympics. Saudi officials finally agreed last month to send two women along with the Muslim country’s Olympic squad to London, after initially claiming that no women had qualified. Shaherkani lost her judo match to Melissa Mojica of Puerto Rico in just 82 seconds, but the event was indeed historic, as the New York Times observed:

The 10:33 a.m. elimination match in women’s judo, 172-pound-plus category, was unremarkable, just another quick bout on the assembly line of judo matches that took place throughout Friday morning. That is, it was unremarkable, athletically speaking.

Historically, politically and socially speaking, it was another thing altogether.

“In white,” the announcer declared, as the two judokas walked into the arena, “the first woman ever from Saudi Arabia, Wojdan Shaherkani.”

And even though Shaherkani lost, the crowd gave her a standing ovation. “I’m proud, I’m happy and I want to continue in judo. I want to thank the fans for their support,” she said after the event, adding, “I was disturbed and afraid at the beginning, it was my first time in a big competition and there was a lot of pressure because of the hijab issue.”

Judo officials originally said Shaherkani would not be allowed to compete wearing a hijab, but a deal was struck to allow her to wear a black swimming cap instead.