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Ons Jabeur is one among a variety of Muslim making historical past in sport. These are their hopes for the following era


Don’t be stunned if we hear extra about Muslim girls in sports activities this 12 months.

Tunisian tennis star Ons Jabeur is the No. 2 seed on the first grand slam of the 2023 tennis season – the Australian Open, which received underway on Monday.

Jabeur turned heads in 2022 with thrilling performances at Wimbledon and the US Open, and he or she’s not the one Muslim girl athlete within the highlight.

Doaa Elghobashy has been coaching to make Egypt’s Olympic seaside volleyball workforce after she and her teammate have been the primary Egyptian girls to compete in Seaside volleyball on the Olympics in 2016.

In the meantime, three-time NCAA All American and Olympic bronze medalist in fencing, Ibtihaj Muhammad goals to empower girls and women via sports activities, her clothes line and books. And three-time Egyptian Olympian, Aya Medany is working to extend gender equality in sport.

These Muslim girls have made historical past of their respective competitions and opened doorways for a brand new era of athletes.

Regardless of their accomplishments and years of progress making sport extra inclusive of Muslim girls and women, there are nonetheless hurdles to clear.

This can be a take a look at the roads to success for Jabeur, Elghobashy, Medany and Muhammad and the way altering guidelines have impacted their religion and participation in sport.

In line with the Pew Analysis Middle, there have been almost two billion Muslims across the globe in 2019.

Lately, Muslim girls and women have competed in a variety of sports activities on the world stage – from fencing to determine skating.

However even with the rise of media and social media protection, a precise variety of Muslim girls athletes is troublesome to pinpoint partially as a result of some don’t vocalize their beliefs or put on clothes indicative of their religion.

Nonetheless, over the previous few years, camps and group packages designed to reveal Muslim women to sports activities and assist them develop athletic abilities have elevated – like Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir’s group, Dribbling Down Obstacles.

Influencer and former Somali Nationwide Basketball workforce captain, Jamad Fiin hosts a basketball camp for Muslim women, whereas Toronto-based Hijabi Ballers hosts coaching packages in numerous sports activities.

And extra Muslim majority nations have allowed girls to take part in worldwide sporting occasions.

In line with the Worldwide Olympic Committee, almost half of all opponents within the 2020 Tokyo Olympics – 5,457 – have been girls.

Of these athletes, almost 380 represented nations designated as Muslim-majority, in line with a 2017 Pew research.

The 2016 Summer season Olympics hosted a barely smaller proportion of feminine athletes – a document on the time. There have been simply over 5,000 girls opponents that 12 months, and simply over 380 got here from Muslim-majority nations.

Some sports activities organizations have made it simpler for them to compete in modest uniforms. Take the worldwide federations governing basketball and soccer.

The Worldwide Basketball Federation’s (FIBA) rule banning spiritual head coverings was overturned in 2017 and the worldwide group governing soccer (FIFA) lifted their ban on head coverings three years earlier.

Within the US, the Nationwide Federation of State Excessive Faculty Associations (NFHS) just lately modified its guidelines to allow pupil athletes to compete in spiritual head coverings so long as they don’t pose a danger to different gamers.

For the Nationwide Collegiate Athletic Affiliation (NCAA), headgear guidelines differ by sport. Ladies’s basketball guidelines presently requires college students to get waivers to put on spiritual headwear.

An NCAA spokesperson informed CNN Sports activities the group has granted all the basketball waivers up to now and that it’s contemplating a proposal in Could to drop the requirement.

The Ladies’s Nationwide Basketball Affiliation (WNBA) doesn’t require gamers to submit waivers. The WNBA has by no means required gamers to submit waivers.

Lately, laws like Maryland’s Inclusive Apparel Act, which permits college students to switch athletic or workforce uniforms to adapt with their spiritual necessities, has handed. Only some different states – Ohio, Illinois, and Utah – have comparable legal guidelines on their books.

Sports activities sociologist, Jay Coakley, referred to as these developments promising. He’s taught in regards to the connections between sports activities, tradition, and society on the College of Colorado.

The participation of Muslim girls in sports activities was placed on his radar on the Brighton Convention on Ladies and Sport in 1994.

“I all the time thought that the way in which Muslim girls have been clothed was grounded in discrimination and that it constituted a major barrier for girls taking part in society,” he informed CNN Sports activities.

“I listened to, particularly the ladies from Egypt who have been in full burkas and with their face lined as much as the decrease a part of the eyes (and) higher cheekbones … They noticed it as a supply of freedom.”

Nonetheless, Coakley warned that any progressive insurance policies are solely as everlasting because the individuals who need to implement them.

In different phrases, guidelines can change.

Tunisian Jabeur, ranked No. 2 on the planet in girls’s tennis by the Ladies’s Tennis Affiliation (WTA), had a stellar document in 2022.

The 28-year-old reached the finals of Wimbledon and the US Open final 12 months and in addition competed in her first WTA Finals occasion, which is open to the highest eight girls’s singles and doubles tennis gamers on the planet.

Jabeur, who was born in Tunisia, began enjoying on the age of three. In 2017, she broke into the world’s prime 100.

The WTA doesn’t have any restrictions for gamers who need to put on one or another spiritual masking. Protecting legs and arms can be allowed.

Jabeur, who doesn’t compete in a hijab, was not accessible to remark about it when later contacted by CNN Sports activities.

However she informed media at a US Open press convention that her highway to success hasn’t been simple.

“There (are) a variety of difficulties rising up coming from Tunisia (and) it’s not simple to imagine that you may be right here at some point, however fortunately I made it occur,” she mentioned about how she grew to become concerned in tennis.

“It’s simply a part of the method and I really feel like you must all the time have difficulties to be stronger, to be right here at some point and face one of the best tennis gamers on the planet.”

The US Open tweeted that Jabeur was “the primary North African, Arab, and Tunisian girl to achieve the #USOpen closing.”

The same tweet was posted a number of months earlier by Wimbledon. Jabeur superior to the finals at that match as nicely.

Jabeur’s success is attracting extra folks to the game. In line with the Ladies’s Tennis Affiliation, membership within the Tunisian Tennis Federation has grown and the variety of younger Tunisians exhibiting curiosity within the sport has climbed with Jabeur’s success.

Media at a 2022 US Open press convention requested about her potential to encourage younger women to play tennis. Jabeur smiled.

“I hope I can ship a strong message that if I made it right here, everyone could make it right here. Particularly for girls from completely different nations, particularly from girls from the Center East, from the Arab world,” mentioned Jabeur, who has been dubbed by Tunisians “The Minister of Happiness,” informed media.

In Cairo, Egypt, 26-year-old Doaa Elghobashy is competing on her personal phrases. She’s among the many prime 500 volleyball gamers on the planet and is coaching to assist Egypt’s seaside volleyball workforce qualify for a second time within the 2024 Olympics, with new teammate Farida El Askalany.

Elghobashy has skilled what another Muslim girls by no means have – help and acceptance from her sport’s governing physique.

She made her Olympic debut in 2016 in Rio De Janeiro. The Worldwide Volleyball Federation (FIVB) gave her last-minute permission to compete within the Video games in hijab, making Elghobashy the primary hijabi athlete to take action in seaside volleyball.

“I used to be so pleased that they made the choice, as a result of it meant they have been giving [an] alternative for extra folks to take part within the Olympics,” mentioned Elghobashy, via a translator, in an interview with CNN Sport.

“I’ve the appropriate to play sports activities in no matter I really feel snug in,” added Elghobashy.”

Elghobashy wears hijab, lengthy sleeves and pants on the court docket. She mentioned she’d oppose anybody who would attempt to cease her.

“The hijab is a part of me,” she informed CNN Sports activities on a break between practices. “On the finish of the day, it’s a sport and I’m not a mannequin. I’m an athlete and other people ought to focus extra on my athleticism slightly than my garments.”

“Simply because I’m a hijabi doesn’t imply that I shouldn’t have the chance to play on the Olympics,” she added. “I did this, I achieved it. I deserved it.”

In line with the Worldwide Olympic Committee, all taking part Muslim majority nations despatched girls to the 2016 Summer season Video games, aside from Iraq.

Simply 4 years earlier, all Olympic nations had girls athletes on their groups for the primary time in fashionable Olympic historical past. This included Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei, which allowed girls to take part within the Video games for the primary time on the 2012 London Olympics.

This was largely celebrated as a step ahead for girls in sports activities, however some, like 34-year-old former Olympic pentathlete Aya Medany, took a step again.

She was the primary Olympic pentathlete to compete in a hijab when she represented Egypt within the 2012 London Video games.

The pentathlon is an occasion comprised of 5 completely different sports activities – operating, swimming, fencing, taking pictures and horseback using. All of those occasions, aside from swimming, permit Muslim girls to decorate modestly.

Nonetheless, the swimsuit rules have been a difficulty for Medany, and a part of why she says she stopped competing in 2013.

“It was a really powerful choice and like mentally it wasn’t simple,” Medany informed CNN Sports activities. “I really feel from inside that I’m not okay, however that is the one method. That is one of the best ways, one of the best within the worst state of affairs.”

Like many swimmers, Medany wore a full physique swimsuit within the Athens Video games in 2004 and Beijing in 2008. After the Worldwide Swimming Federation (FINA) introduced a ban on the complete physique fits in competitors would go into impact in 2010, she began to think about retirement.

She mentioned this was an issue for her as a result of she wished to decorate modestly – to completely cowl her arms, legs and torso – a non secular precept she values.

Nonetheless, the swimsuits grew to become an issue for FINA after over 100 world data have been set by swimmers carrying the swimsuit. Leaders of FINA have been involved that the swimsuit, which was product of polyurethane, may support a swimmer’s pace, buoyance and endurance.

Medany tried to adapt by competing in swimsuits that didn’t totally cowl her physique. It paid off athletically. She certified for the London Video games, however spiritually, she mentioned the change didn’t sit nicely along with her.

She initially retired in March 2013 – citing her discomfort with the foundations, the Arab Spring, and accidents.

Just a few years later, she returned to worldwide competitors within the pentathlon and particular person fencing. She mentioned household and training workers helped her course of the non secular discomfort with the swimsuit rules.

She mentioned she retired once more in 2020 due to the pandemic. A 12 months later, she was appointed to the Egyptian parliament.

She’s additionally a member of the Worldwide Olympic Committee’s Athletes’ Fee and teaches fencing to ladies in a Jordanian refugee camp on behalf of the NGO, Peace and Sport.

The challenges Medany skilled as an athlete motivated her to attempt to make sports activities extra accessible to girls and women from completely different backgrounds.

“I mentioned, ‘okay,’ that at some point I’m going to be within the different place, of their place, and I’m going to hearken to folks so no matter they’ve, no matter they want,” Medany mentioned.

Ibtihaj Muhammad, 37, mentioned she additionally confronted discrimination whereas coaching as a fencer in Maplewood, New Jersey.

She informed CNN Sports activities she began fencing on the age of 12, on the behest of her mom, who preferred that fencing uniforms made it simple to observe modesty as they totally cowl the fencer’s physique.

“She noticed this distinctive alternative for me to take part in a sport as a Muslim child with out having to run to Modell’s or Dicks Sporting Items so as to add one thing to the uniform like I did in observe and discipline or in tennis,” Muhammad mentioned.

She recalled having to ask permission to compete in her hijab in highschool. When she competed, the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Affiliation (NJSIAA) required pupil athletes who wished to switch uniforms for spiritual causes to file a letter with the varsity’s athletic director.

She mentioned they have been requested to be able to current the letter to officers at each sporting occasion. Muhammad mentioned she felt the rule was utilized selectively.

“Everybody knew that I wore hijab, however it was actually simply form of like this discriminatory factor that occurred to me as a child,” she mentioned. “And it was simply form of regular. I didn’t know if I used to be going to have the ability to play.”

NJSIAA modified its guidelines in 2021 and now not requires pupil athletes to get approval to compete in spiritual head coverings.

Like Medany, Muhammad mentioned she hopes to make sports activities extra welcoming for Muslim girls and women.

She authored a youngsters’s e book referred to as “The Proudest Blue,” which celebrates variety. She’s promoted the Nike “Professional Hijab,” which goals to make it simpler for hijabi athletes to compete.

Mattel created a Barbie doll that seemed like Muhammad as a part of their “Shero” assortment in 2017.

Muhammad has additionally been vocal about different social justice points – from protected consuming water to athletes with disabilities.

The day CNN Sports activities spoke with Muhammad, WNBA star Brittney Griner, had been sentenced to 9 years in a Russian penal colony for drug smuggling.

“My coronary heart is with Brittney and her household for what’s taking place,” Muhammad mentioned throughout the August interview.

“I can’t even think about being on this scenario, however I do really feel like this might have occurred to anybody and for this reason now we have to proceed to struggle for her freedom as a result of I really feel like particularly as athletes this might’ve been any of us.”

Griner was launched from Russian detention in December.

Muhammad, Medany, Jabeur and Elghobasy say they hope to make a major influence for the following era of Muslim girls athletes. They function mentors and have been dwelling markers of how change is feasible.

“I’ve all the time felt like I used to be doing it due to the shortage of illustration, and I need extra women who appear like me to really feel like they’ve a spot in sports activities. It doesn’t should be fencing,” mentioned Muhammad.

“I simply need us to get on the market. I need us to really feel snug, however I additionally need different folks to know that they should be snug with us being there as nicely.”

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