Nike star Ibtihaj Muhammad attacks French attitude to sports hijab

US fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad takes part in the Nike show to present feminine world soccer cup jerseys in Paris on 11 March, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 12 March 2019
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Nike star Ibtihaj Muhammad attacks French attitude to sports hijab

  • Ibtihajj Muhammad and representatives of her sponsors, Nike, criticized French attitudes to the hijab
  • The Nike hijab provoked a strong reaction in France

PARIS: American Olympic fencer Ibtihajj Muhammad and representatives of her sponsors, Nike, criticized French attitudes to the hijab on a promotional visit to the country.
Muhammad was attending a long-planned event in Paris at which the US sportswear brand launched their strips for 14 nations, including the hosts, in the women’s World Cup in France this summer.
In February, the American sportswear company was embroiled in a controversy when retailer Decathlon withdrew sports Nike’s hijab from its French stores after one day following threats.
“I’ll be in my @Nike pro hijab every damn day,” Muhammad, who in 2016 became the first American to compete in a hijab in the Games, tweeted before traveling to France.
“It’s sad to me that France has not joined the global conversation around inclusively, around diversity. To prohibit a company from selling a sport hijab is shameful,” the Olympic bronze medallist told AFP on Monday.
“I think that it hurts much more than it helps your nation here.”
Bert Hoyt, a Nike vice president, said the company were looking forward to the women’s World Cup in France.
“Our goal is to provide the access for all women to have the opportunity to play sport and to play women’s football,” he said.
“We believe that we are at the beginning of a journey and we believe that the World Cup in June will be a tipping point for the future of the women’s game.”
The Nike hijab provoked a strong reaction in France.
A spokeswoman for President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist party, Aurore Berge, said the sports hijab goes against French “values.”
Lydia Guirous of the center-right Republicans said it went hand in hand with “the submission of women.”
Muhammad disagreed.
“I think you’re not a feminist if you believe that wearing a hijab is not a choice,” she said. “Anyone who believes in individual rights, freedom of choice, should support women who choose to wear it.
“It’s not your choice. It should be our choice.
“And anyone who sees a problem with that does not belong in sport, because sport is a place that it supposed to be inclusive of everyone, not matter where you’re from, your sexual orientation, your faith, your skin color, your gender, it doesn’t matter,” she said.
In the French government, only Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu supported the sale of the hijab.
“I want to go and get women, mothers, girls wherever they are and as they are, to encourage them to practice sport, because it is, I am convinced, a powerful lever of emancipation,” Maracineanu said.
Muhammad’s hijab is not visible once she dons her fencing mask.
“I do not necessarily need a sports hijab to practice the sport I’m doing, but I know it has made my life easier,” she said.
“I hope it will help women all over the world to be more integrated by being active. There are so many stereotypes and bad perceptions that exist about the Muslim community,” she said.


KSA’s martial arts heroine: ‘I got into kickboxing by coincidence, as I just wanted to join a gym’

Updated 19 March 2019
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KSA’s martial arts heroine: ‘I got into kickboxing by coincidence, as I just wanted to join a gym’

  • Young Saudi triumphant at Open International Tournament despite just two years of training
  • Zahra Al-Qurashi took the gold in the women’s 70 kg category, beating Jordanian Heba Wasfi

JEDDAH: Zahra Al-Qurashi never expected to be where she is today: A gold medal winner in full contact kickboxing at the Open International Tournament for Clubs aged just 21. What started out as a gym class two years ago soon turned into a passion, leading to her victory in Amman on Sunday.

“I got into kickboxing by coincidence, as I just wanted to join a gym. I found the class and gave it a try, and decided to keep attending the classes,” she said. “A year ago, I joined Flagboxing Gym, and started training with my coach Grethe (Kraugerud). With her help, I developed my style and I am improving every day.”

Full contact is a discipline of kickboxing where punches and kicks must be delivered to legal areas of the body. According to the World Association for Kickboxing Organizations’ rules, it is legal to attack the front of the head and front and side of the torso, using “ankle-level foot sweeps.” It is prohibited to attack the throat, lower abdomen, back, legs, joints, back of the head and top of the shoulders.

A medal at her first international competition, then, speaks volumes about Al-Qurashi’s tenacity. She took the gold in the women’s 70 kg category, beating Jordanian Heba Wasfi.

“As soon as I entered the ring, everything went blank, I couldn’t hear or see anyone but my opponent, so I don’t really recall hearing my name even,” said Al-Qurashi. “I got a couple of really good kicks and punches, but she was a good opponent. I was in my own zone though, following every move and made sure I didn’t make mistakes.”

Zahra Al-Quraishi, 21, is already a gold medal winner at an international event despite being a virtual rookie in the demanding sport of kickboxing. (Supplied photos)

Hala Al-Hamrani, the owner of Flagboxing Gym in Jeddah, said: “I am over the moon. I have dreamt about this happening for 16 years, ever since I started coaching. My goal was to eventually provide the ladies of this country with an opportunity to compete.”

For approximately two months, Kraugerud, from Norway, oversaw Al-Qurashi’s workouts, adding more sparring, interval training and intense ring practice.

“I’ve had Zahra spar with men, who are bigger and stronger than her, to give her a sense of what to expect in the ring, to give her more confidence and make her mentally prepared,” said Kraugerud. “I was very proud of her as she entered the ring, you could see the respect for the sport reflected in her. We did a really good job at Flag, we really pushed for this together as a team. She’s young, but she’s talented and she will go far.”

Al-Hamrani, a member of the Saudi Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) Federation, added: “We got her ready by providing her with the right practice and training. It’s a dream come true and it’s very overwhelming because it was such a long process for something like this to happen. Zahra is an up-and-coming athlete who hopefully has a long future and I’m extremely excited to see what that future holds.”

Abdul Aziz Julaidan, chairman of the Saudi MMA Federation, hailed the result after a tough bout between the two competitors, and thanked Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, chairman of the General Sport Authority, for the support he had given to the team.

Upon returning to her hometown of Jeddah, Al-Qurashi was greeted by her mother. “I was hugging her and crying and mom, being mom, asked if I was crying because I got hit,” she laughed. “That was her way of saying: I’m proud of you.”