The Lookout

Weightlifting group allows woman to wear hijab, unitard in competitions

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Abdullah in a February competition

A Muslim weightlifter in Atlanta, Ga., will now be allowed to compete nationally after the sport's international ruling body said she may wear a hijab and body-covering unitard.

Kulsoom Abdullah began lifting last year at her gym in Atlanta, and discovered she was surprisingly good at the sport. She qualified for the American Open Weightlifting Championships last December, but the event's sponsoring body, USA Weightlifting, told her that she would not be able to compete in her modified uniform that covers everything but her hands, feet, and face.

Officials with the group said they had to follow the guidelines of the International Weightlifting Federation, which mandated that elbows and knees be uncovered so judges could tell that athletes had fully locked them out when they lifted. After the U.S. Olympic Committee and Abdullah petitioned the group, the IWF decided this week at a meeting in Malaysia that a tight-fitting unitard would be acceptable, since judges would still be able to see whether the knees and elbows were locked.

The new rule means Abdullah may now attend a national competition in July, and possibly move on the Olympics if she qualifies one day. She can lift 70 kilos (about 154 pounds) to her shoulders, and 60 kilos (or about 132 pounds) over her head, in a move called the "clean-and-jerk."

"The newly approved competition costume modification promotes and enables a more inclusive sport environment and breaks down barriers to participation," the IWF said in a press release. The group added that a hijab has always been allowed, as long as the athlete doesn't touch it with the barbell.

"I'm relieved and happy," Kulsoom told the Lookout.

Abdullah has a PhD in electrical computer engineering from Georgia Tech, and still does research at the university. She told The Lookout that what she likes about lifting is "there's a lot of technique involved. Someone could be very strong and not be able to lift as much."

Excelling at lifting "gave me confidence," she said, adding that she hopes more women will take part in the sport if they hear about her story.

Abdullah's problem is not unique in the world of sports. The Iranian woman's soccer team showed up to a Olympic qualifying match against Jordan wearing hijabs earlier this month, and officials with the global soccer governing body, FIFA, promptly disqualified them. FIFA banned headscarves in 2007, citing choking hazards.

(Abdullah in a February competition: Photo provided by Abdullah)

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