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Head scarf clearance for Saudi jukoda neither 'a victory or a defeat'

The moon is seen next to Olympic rings at St James' Park soccer stadium during the men's Group D football match between Spain and Honduras at the London 2012 Olympic Games in Newcastle July 29, 2012.

Nigel Roddis/REUTERS

The Olympic clash of cultures – Muslim tradition versus judo tradition – went to the fundamentalist Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's as female judo fighter Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani will fight in Friday's heavyweight match wearing a head scarf or hijab. But the main Imam of the Islamic Foundation of Toronto calls the decision to overrule judo's stipulation of no head covering "a compromise. I don't look at it as a victory or a defeat," said Imam Yusuf Badat. "We want women to participate in sport."

Shahrkhani is scheduled to fight in the over-78 kg class against Melissa Mojica of Puerto Rico, a former medal winner at the Pan-American judo championships. Her father Ali Shahrkhani, who has been her trainer, had told Saudi Arabia's al-Watan newspaper his daughter would not fight if officials insisted on her doffing the hijab.

"If it's designed and engineered to meet the needs of the activity and the person doing the sport, there should be no problem," Imam Badat said.

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The Koran requires males to stay covered from navel to knee and females to cover the majority of their bodies except face, hands and feet, the Imam said. "It's really up to the individual. No one can be forced to wear a certain amount of clothing, though you can if you follow the Koran."

The International Judo Federation said Shahrkhani – who holds a blue belt in a field of black belt experts – could not participate in the London Olympics because wearing the head scarf posed a danger in a sport that allows chokeholds and strangleholds. The impasse led the International Olympic Committee to moderate several days of talks between Saudi team officials and judo's sport governing body the IJF as the parties looked for common ground. The IOC had asked the Saudi's to join the 205 national teams in sending female athletes. The conservative kingdom agreed to set Shahrkhani and Pepperdine University 800-metre runner Sarah Attar – if they competed in head scarves. Asian judo federations have previously allowed Muslim women to wear the headscarf.

"They have a solution that works for both parties, all parties involved," spokesman Mark Adams told The Associated Press. He said the head covering is in line with rules of judo in Asia and is "safety compliant but allows for cultural sensitivity.

"In Asia, judo is a common practice so they asked for something that would be compliant with that, and the judo federations have reached a compromise that both are happy with," Adams said.

Last Thursday, IJF president Marius Vizer vetoed the headscarf, citing safety concerns – although Asian judo federations have previously accommodated Muslim women wearing a hijab during major competitions.

The IJF usually requires athletes competing at the Olympics to hold a black belt, but an exception was made for the Saudi woman. She did not qualify for her spot. The IOC extended a special invitation after talks among Saudi Arabian officials, the IOC and judo officials.

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James Christie written sports for the Globe on staff since 1974, covering almost all beats and interviewed the big names from Joe DiMaggio, to Muhammad Ali, to Jim Brown to Wayne Gretzky. Also covered the 10 worst years in Toronto Maple Leafs hockey history. More

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