Wojdan Shaherkani – follow-up

A few notes following up on my post about Wojdan Shaherkani.

The universality clause

There's a special rule that made it possible for Shaherkani and the other Saudi woman, a runner named Sarah Attar, to compete:

A second International Olympic Committee spokeswoman, who declined to give her name, said both Saudi athletes were accepted under the Olympics’ “universality” clause. It allows athletes who didn’t meet qualifying times to compete when their participation is deemed important for reasons of equality.

The clause was invoked most memorably for Eric “the Eel” Moussambani, a swimmer from Equatorial Guinea, in the 2000 Olympics.

Attar's first Olympic race will be on Wednesday, August 8.

Double elimination

I notice Shaherkani did not fight again. No reason has been given that I know of, nor does there need to be as far as I'm concerned. [Update: A correction from Yonah: "The olympics are not double-elimination, they are modified single elimination. Only those that make it to the round of 8 are given a shot at a medal. Of the last 8, the first 4 to lose can only win bronze."]

Head covering

I can't imagine the head covering that Shaherkani wore will work as a long-term solution. It would surely come off in any serious matwork. I've seen matches where one player had a bandaged head, but if that bandage came off it was "only" an injury being aggravated, not a strict religious rule being violated.

Maybe someone could design a head covering similar to the headgear wrestlers wear to protect their ears? Could it be adjusted to allow for legitimate attempts at choking without injuring the opponent? What about sports hijabs like this and this — could they be modified to work for grapplers?

I thought it odd that fear of choking was one initial objection to allowing headscarves in judo:

judo officials claimed a headscarf could cause choking, in a sport that involves grabbing and throwing.

I'd imagine the more serious issue would be an adjustment to the rules so that the headwear may not be used to inflict a choke, as one may do with parts of one's own or the opponent's uniform.


I disagree with this description at WSJ.com:

Before the fight, some other judo fighters worried that Shaherkani wasn't qualified to compete and suggested it could be dangerous for her to square off against Olympic athletes in the violent sport.

Those concerns faded quickly when the bout got under way. Shaherkani used a defensive strategy, trying to deflect Mojica's advances. She succeeded a few times before Mojica grabbed hold of her and swung her to the ground.

That's not how I saw it at all. I didn't see a "defensive strategy" succeeding a few times. I saw Mojica being extremely kind to an awkward and terrified teenager. Mojica was gentle with gripfighting and gentle with the throw, just as any experienced player with a shred of decency would treat a beginner in the dojo. Maybe I'm imagining this, but to me she made a point of finishing the match without hurting or humiliating her opponent. I was touched by that, and by her respectful bow as she shook Shaherkani's hand.

4 Responses to “Wojdan Shaherkani – follow-up”

  1. Yonah Says:


    A couple of points: – The olympics are not double-elimination, they are modified single elimination. Only those that make it to the round of 8 are given a shot at a medal. Of the last 8, the first 4 to lose can only win bronze.

    • While I understand that the IOC has the ability to allow athletes to play to promote the olympics and sports, I agree that allowing someone into a Judo match is a lot different that allowing them in the pool or onto the track. Even if it takes the Runner or swimmer 3x as long, he/she is not putting themselves in danger. While Mujica might have been kind (or even told to be kind) imagine if she were locked in?

    • My yarmulka comes off in the following situations – Sleep, Bathing, and Judo. I made a difficult decision many years ago to not wear my Yarmulka in the dojo and at tournaments. (I do however keep it on my head in between matches). I have also been upset that for the last 5 years or so, all Hudson promotional Shiai are on Saturday. And while I have reason to argue that a concession should not have been made for her, I know that there is one fundemental difference between me and her. Removing my Yarmulka for Judo is something that I will need to address with my maker when my time on earth is done. For Shaherkani, not wearing head gear could possibly mean a death sentence on the trip home.

  2. Andy Says:

    Thanks, Yonah. Now that you mention it, I remember Saturdays being a problem for you. Back when I followed the schedules more closely, I kept an eye out for the rare Sunday tournament so that I could let you know, but over the years it slipped my mind.

    You're right about the safety issue. Setting aside the politics of the situation (as if that were possible), Mujica was within her rights to protect what she had trained hard for all her life. For all we know, the reason she took so long was to make sure she wouldn't get injured. After all, Shaherkani was a complete unknown. Who knew if she might be capable of doing damage, either by skill or lack thereof.

    By the way, I was glad to see you blogging again.

  3. cocacola zero Says:

    i read somewhere that she was a brown belt (her belt at olympics notwithstanding). is this true? whether this is because she is only 16 or because of her skills levels, it appeared to me as if she had very little competition experience.

    PR player was very kind and gentle. she could have done a standing seionage or haraigoshi or uchimata, and dumped her on the mat with a huge thud.

  4. Andy Says:

    I read that she was a blue belt: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wodjan_Shaherkani.

    From the video I've seen of Mojica, I think she likes those side sacrifice throws. I agree, something like uchimata, especially with makikomi as is often done in competition, could have hurt Shaherkani.

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