London Olympics 2012: Egypt's Sara Mohamed Baraka and Fatma Rashed

Egypt's Sara Mohamed Baraka and Fatma Rashed row in the women's lightweight double sculls repechage at Eton Dorney during the London 2012 Olympic Games
Egypt's Sara Mohamed Baraka and Fatma Rashed row in the women's lightweight double sculls repechage at Eton Dorney during the London 2012 Olympic Games July 31, 2012. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes.

London 2012 Olympics: Saudi Arabian judo athlete will compete in hijab

Shahrkhani judo London 2012
Miss Shahrkhani will now compete in the +78kg category in judo after Saudi talks with the International Judo Federation Photo: AFP

Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani, 16, will compete in the +78kg judo category after Saudi Arabia's Olympic Committee reached an agreement with the International Judo Federation (IJF) following talks on Tuesday.
Marius Vizer, the Austrian president of the IJF, had said last week that Shahrkhani would not be allowed to wear a headscarf to compete for safety reasons.
But Miss Shahrkhani's father told Saudi Arabia's al-Watan newspaper that his daughter "will not compete in the Judo Games on August 3 if the committee insists that she removes her hijab."
The IJF and Saudi Arabia's Olympic committee came to an agreement after conceding that Asian judo federations which oversee Muslim countries such as Malaysia make an allowance for judokas who wear the headscarf demanded by some followers of Islam.
Mark Adams, communications director of the International Olympic Committee, said: "I can confirm that the federation and the National Olympic Committee met yesterday. They have a solution that works for all parties involved."
Asked what the solution involved, he said: "As you know, the judo federation in Asia does allow for some headscarves. It is a version that is safety compliant but also allows for cultural sensitivity.
"In Asian judo it's a common practice, so they asked for something that would be compliant with that, and the judo federation has reached a compromise they're both happy with."
He went on: "We helped bring them together. "Our aim is that we want to have women from all National Olympic Committees competing in the Games and clearly one of those ones that will be new here will be Saudi.
"We want to make sure we can give the maximum chance for women from every National Olympic Committee to take part in the Games."
Saudi 800m runner Sarah Attar are the only two female competitors for the kingdom, which has never previously sent any female athletes to the Games.


Khadijah Safari, Kick-box Trainer from UK on Channel 4

female personal trainer
This week Channel 4's 4thought.tv asks the question "What role does faith play in sport?"     Over the course of the week, seven different voices from a variety of faiths and sporting disciplines address the question from their own point of view. 
Included in the contributions is Khadijah Safari, a recent recipient of a MWSF award, Khadijah's film is scheduled to broadcast this evening at 7.55pm following the Channel 4 news.  The films will also all be available to view on website www.4thought.tv

Iran's Female Olympians: London 2012 Olympics

For the first time in Olympic history, eight Iranian female athletes will compete in London 2012. All of the athletes have qualified officially, with none of the them needing to use a wildcard. Small Media will cover Iran's participation throughout the Olympic games.
  1. In this report by Small Media on the London 2012 Olympics, we discuss the trials and tribulations facing Iran's 8 women Olympians. They've faced financial strife, been kicked off their teams and reinstated days before competing, lost their coaches, and attended substandard training camps. In spite of it all, they're all excited about competing in London and their attendance shows they've already succeeded against the odds. 

    In this report we feature shot putter Leyla Rajabi, kayaker Arezou Hakimi, table tennis player Neda Shahsavari, rower Solmaz Abbasi, archer Zahra Dehghan, taekwondo player Sousan Hajipour, and shooters Elaheh Ahmadi and Mahlagha Jambozorg. 
  2. Shooting

  3. 29-year old Elaheh Ahmadi started shooting twelve years ago and became a member of Iran's national team within three years. Ahmadi is optimistic about achieving good results in London: "If I keep beating my records during training, I might be able to win some medals ... My goal is to raise my country's flag during this tournament". Ahmadi was originally a candidate to be Iran's flag-bearer, but the shooting federation prohibited her from doing so: "The truth is that they contacted me from the federation and in the end we decided that I shouldn't be the flag bearer. I can't go to the [opening] ceremony the day before a match ... I am sad, but as I have to compete the following day, I can't be the flag bearer". 
  4. 21-year-old Mahlagha Jambozorg was the first Iranian to qualify for London 2012. In May 2011, she placed fourth in the final of the 10m Air Rifle competitions in Germany, earning her place in the London line-up. Jambozorg, from Hamedan, began shooting when she was 15 years old and became a member of Iran's national shooting team when she was 17.

    After qualifying for the Olympics she said in an interview, "Honestly, the Olympics was always a dream for me, and now that dream has come true". 

    When asked about the support she gets from Iran's shooting federation she replied, "It's better you ask my coach. It's neither good nor bad. Human beings are always perfections and no matter how good conditions are in our training camp, we'll still look for something better. On the other hand, if I say the training camps are bad, then it's not clear whether or not my words are fair, so I prefer not to comment". 

    About her presence in London Jambozorg says, "Any athlete who qualifies [for the Olympics] does their best to be a good representative and to get the best result in the competitions. In my opinion, the best result would be my own satisfaction of my performance in the competition. What matters is that a shooter should aim to get their best result, but although I can't say what would be the best result, I will do my best in these competitions". 
  5. Taekwondo 

  6. In an exclusive interview with Small Media, 21-year-old Taekwondo player Sousan Hajipour spoke about the support she has received from the Iranian Taekwondo Federation: "[The federation] supported me fully. I have a good coach, a physical trainer, doctor, physiotherapist, good nutrition, everything ... everything that I needed I had. I went to a good training camp in South Korea and this helped me to get in the best possible shape". 

    We asked her about her main goal for the Olympics: "As an Iranian woman, I want to show the world that qualifying for the Olympics was not my final goal, I want to show them that we can get medals ... I hope to be the first Iranian woman to get a medal in the Olympics". 
  7. Archery

  8. Zahra Dehghan began her archery career six years ago at the age of 20. She was the final Iranian woman athlete to qualify for London 2012, making the Olympic cut on 23 June 2012. In the month leading up to her departure she encountered a number of problems with the Iranian Archery Federation, issues that nearly led to her missing the Olympics. 

    Her story begins three months ago, when the acting head of Iran's archery federation, Mohammadali Shojaei, changed the coaches of the Iranian national archery team. Dehghan had trained with her Korean coaches for years and wanted to remain with her coaches, at least until the Olympics. One month ago, just 27 days before the opening ceremony of the Olympics was due to take place, Zahra Dehghan and Milad Vaziri, Iran's male archer in the Olympics, quit the federation's training camp and wrote a letter to Shojaei asking for their Korean coaches to come back. 

    In the letter they announced that they would not return to the national team's camp unless their old coaches returned. In their letter, Dehghan and Vaziri also requested an Iranian coach, Hamzeh Safaei, who is the son of the Archery Foundation's former president. Current president Shojaei, angered by the letter, said the two archer's must have been provoked by an unnamed forced to write the letter and the federation replaced the archers two days later with Sareh Asadi and Nader Manouchehri.

    After the news of her replacement hit the media, Dehghan commented, "It was Mr Shojaei who had insisted that we should say who we would want as our Iranian coaches. In fact, the letter that we wrote was dictated to us by Mr Shojaei. He was the one asking us to address these issues in writing". 

    Then again, during the sending off ceremony for athletes on 18 July, less than ten days before the Olympics, Mohammad Aliabadi, president of Iran's National Olympic Committee,announced that Zahra Dehghan and Milad Vaziri would return to represent Iran in the Olympics: "With the approval of Abbasi, the Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports, the original archers have been re-introduced as our representatives at the Olympics". 

    Dehghan was happy to represent Iran in the archery competition and said, "Getting to the Olympics is a really good feeling and I thank God that in the last minutes I returned to the Olympic team's list". She emphasised that she had continued as normal with her training regime, even while she was off the team: "For a while our mental condition wasn't good, but since our departure to London has become definite, our condition has improved and we're shooting better than ever before". 

    In an ironic twist, some Iranian news agencies reported that the two Iranian coaches who were supposed to accompany the archers to London on 23 July said they were unable to go because their ID cards had not been issued. A few hours before Dehghan started shooting in the ranking round in Lord's Cricket Ground on 27 July 2012, Iranian news agencies reportedthat Milad Vaziri, the male archer, would be Dehghan's coach. 
  9. Rowing

  10. The story of Iran's female Olympic rower Solmaz Abbasi, goes back to May 2012, when the President of Iran's Canoe Federation, Ahmad Donyamali, was dismissed by Mohammad Abbasi, on behalf of Iran's Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports. The International Canoe Federation (ICF) objected to this replacement. Jose Perurena, the ICF president, wrote a letter to Mohammad Abbasi, saying that Iran's rowers could only participate in London 2012 if Donyamali was reinstated. Simon Toulson, the Secretary General of the ICF said, "As far as we are concerned, Mr Donyamali is still the president of Iran's Canoe Federation". 

    After this happened, Solmaz Abbasi was contacted by a number of news outlets to make comment on the story. In an interview on 6 June 2012 she stated, "As I am training now, focusing on the news distracts me from my main goal and affects my training". Although she has tried to steer clear of the news, she admits it has been hard to avoid: "[The situation] has affected me subconsciously anyway, but I hope everything goes back to normal so that we can go to the Olympics". 

    After two weeks of negotiations between Iranian sport authorities and politicians, Iran's president Mahmood Ahmadinejad said the former president of the federation should accompany the Iranian olympic team, and Solmaz Abbasi’s presence became definite on 18 July. 

    Just before her departure Abbasi said, "Considering what happened, and although I tried to stay away from it, at some points I lost my concentration and I lost my drive. However, I will do my best and try to get an acceptable result". 
  11. Table Tennis

  12. Neda Shahsavari believes that
    To continue and more photos, please refer to the source: http://storify.com/smallmedia/iran-s-female-olympians-london-2012-olympics

Kazakhstan weightlifter Zulfiya Chinshanlo breaks world record

LONDON—Weightlifter Zulfiya Chinshanlo of Kazakhstan set a clean-and-jerk world record Sunday to win the gold medal in the women’s 53-kilogram category at the London Olympics.
Chinshanlo, 19, lifted 131 kilograms in her second clean-and-jerk attempt, bettering her own world record by 1 kilogram. She finished with a total of 226 kilograms.
Hsu Shu-ching of Taiwan got the silver medal and Cristina Iovu of Moldova the bronze.
Chinshanlo, world champion in 2011, was third after the snatch, but was unstoppable in the clean and jerk. She even loaded 135 kilograms on the bar for her final attempt, but gave up halfway through the lift.
China’s Zhou Jun, a medal favourite, surprisingly made an early departure from the competition after failing her three snatch attempts.


So How Much of An Impact Will Saudi’s Female Olympians Have On Gender Equality? Apparently Not a Lot

Saudi Arabia's decision to send women to the London Olympics for the first time this year lasted right up to the wire vis a vis ongoing talks with the International Olympic Committee, finally reaching the decision to the affirmative just two weeks ago. It was only to be expected that the first sight of Saudi Arabian female Olympians, Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shaherkani and Sarah Attar, marching behind the nation's men during the opening ceremony of the games, would spark a rabid and polarizing Twitter war. The conservative half posted under a hashtag that would translate in English to #Olympic_Whores.
One should not hesitate to describe their participation as shameful and a great sin.
Whores of the Olympics...They want to run so that they intentionally fall down and reveal (their figures).
But supporters immediately infiltrated the hashtag to voice their pride in Shaherkani and Attar, one of whom asserted that it was a step in the right direction: "Next we'll be carrying the flag and walking side by side, equal." The movement is, in fact, part of a larger, tentative movement to give women more of a voice that has been going on under the reign of King Abdullah, known as a reformer: last year plans were launched to allow women to vote in municipal council elections and join the consultative council, and some of the clerics under Abdullah who criticized these reform plans have been fired for it.
The technical aspects and seeming minutia of the women's participation in the Games is being played by ear; while a Saudi official said that the women would be wearing hijabs or Islamic headscarves at all times, the International Judo Federation informed the press on Thursday that Shaherkani would have to fight without a head-covering to observe "the principle and spirit of judo."
But experts are downplaying the historical event; while gladly admitting it does set a precedent, Isobel Coleman, a senior fellow on the Council of Foreign Relations, says "I wouldn't call it a major breakthrough. The decision to allow women to participate was fought by religious conservatives. It will not lead to any wholesale changes anytime soon."
Adds Christoph Wilcke, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, in slightly blunter terms:
It probably means very little. It is unlikely that the Saudi government or the Saudi sporting authorities of their own volition will make changes inside the country as a result of sending two women to the Olympics... "Everything in Saudi Arabia takes a long, long time. What I think this participation does is break a taboo and break a barrier, but I don't think that will lead to concrete changes led by the Saudi government.
What they do think the decision will accomplish, however, is the slow and gradual participation of more everyday Saudi Arabian women in athletics, which is good.


Year of the Woman: For first time all Olympic teams include female athletes

This year’s Summer Games have been dubbed ‘Olympics 2012: Year of the Woman’ as for the first time in history women are represented in all participating national teams and comprise a record 45 per cent of all athletes.
The first female Olympic athletes from Saudi Arabia, Brunei and Qatar appeared at the opening ceremony in London on Friday, ending these nations’ longstanding practice of sending male-only teams to the world’s biggest sporting event
"This is a major boost for gender equality," International Olympic Committee president, Jacques Rogge, said addressing 60,000 spectators and thousands of athletes at the opening ceremony.
Saudi Arabia’s Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shaherkani and Sarah Attar walked alongside their male fellow team members, wearing traditional hijabs. They will represent the kingdom in the 78kg category in judo and 800 meters respectively.
Brunei has broken its no-women tradition by sending the runner Maziah Mahusin. “I feel very proud of myself, and I feel honored,” she said. “It’s kind of like being an ambassador for my country.”

Qatar′s flagbearer Bahya Mansour al-Hamad leads her delegation as they parade in the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games in the Olympic Stadium in London on July 27, 2012 (AFP Photo / Saeed Khan)
Qatar's flagbearer Bahya Mansour al-Hamad leads her delegation as they parade in the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games in the Olympic Stadium in London on July 27, 2012 (AFP Photo / Saeed Khan)
However, the International Judo Federation has ruled that Shaherkani will have to fight without a hijab – a decision that is likely to spark controversy back home in the ultra-conservative kingdom. Powerful clerics there denounce women participating in sports, saying it goes against their natural role.
Still, the very fact that now all 204 national teams feature female athletes is a significant advance for international women’s rights. Only 16 years ago, at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, 26 countries did not have women on their teams.
You know, it’s a human right. Women have the right to practise sport, they want to practise, they love sport, they are attracted to sport.And we must make sure that barriers are broken down,” Jacques Rogge remarked earlier this month after Saudi Arabia announced that it would be sending women to the Olympics in London.
“It is such a huge honor and I hope that it can really make some big strides over there to get more involved in sport,” Saudi Arabia’s Sarah Attar said, according to a release by the IOC.
I definitely think that my participation in these Olympic Games can increase women’s participation in sports in general,” the 17-year-old athlete said.“I can only hope for the best for them and that we can really get some good strides going for women in the Olympics further,” she added.

Waving Hijab? Nah! Waving Flag!

Today was the 2012 Olympic Games Opening Ceremonies. The Parade of Nations has always been my favourite part as it humanizes the Olympics and lets us see the different teams express their excitement. Dreams will be realized and hopes will be crushed. It is also where inspiration and awe will burst out.
The Parade of Nations is about the athletes. It’s about respecting their communities and uniting people under the umbrella of Fair Play and Love of Sport. To carry the flag ahead of a country is an undeniable honour.
I was quite excited to see so many strong, talented women lead the charge into the stadium.
More thrilling was, how many predominantly Muslim countries (12 in fact: Tajikistan,Qatar, Morocco, Indonesia, Turkey, Jordan , Iraq, Djibouti , Comoros , Brunei , Bahrain , Albania ) had selected women as flag bearers.
These phenomenal athletes must fight through the physical rigors their chosen sport. They must train, focus, balance home life, studies, work, family and community involvement. Some must undoubtedly navigate through a system of discrimination with a lack of understanding and support.
I’m a footballer. I wear hijab and openly identify as a Muslim. But, I live in a country where my participation in open sport is allowed and fostered. No doubt, I am privileged.
Flag bearer Mavzuna Chorieva from Tajikistan, had to enter competitions using her brother’s identification and cutting her hair short because a female boxer was unheard of. She hid her identity to have access to a sport she loved.
Maziah Hussain of Brunei, is the first hijab-wearing athlete to represent her country. So is Bahia Al-Hamad of Qatar. Both women beamed with pride as they led their countrymen through the parade. In fact, they are of the first women to be allowed to participate from their homelands.
To see these women carrying their flag with so much grace and dignity is enough to make any women’s heart burst with joy.
Muslim countries represented at these games have historically faced much scrutiny. Their male vis-à-vis female team ratios may have been quite low. They have always been critiqued for lack of inclusion of women and rightfully so. They may also be from a region currently embroiled in war, political insecurity, poverty and ingrained systems of patriarchy .
Saudi Arabia is sending two women as part of their National Team. It has been getting a tremendous amount of press as the announcement was made very recently.
From a country where women can not yet drive, a young woman , Wojdan Shaherkani, will represent her nation in Judo- if she is allowed to compete with her hijab.
However, the issue in this case isn’t whether the athletes wear hijab or even practice Islam. It is that these women they are strong enough and talented enough to make an Olympic Team. Representing Muslim nations that adhere strictly to tradition and may not always be open to women participating so openly is a huge step and one that deserves recognition. These athletes are shattering assumptions and are demanding to give their best.
It is an honour to watch
That 12 women have been selected to be at the forefront of the world’s most watched sporting event, is unprecedented. They are being recognized for their athletic achievements and potential while their heritage is celebrated. It illustrates that the world can be a place of encouragement, acceptance and inspiration.
And it has room for brilliant athletes, Muslim women included.
This is a virtue that I cling to and hope that my daughter and her daughters will defend.
As these athletes are showcased globally, Muslim women flag-bearers, are blazing trails and sprinting in the right direction – to the podium.
Source: http://footybedsheets.tumblr.com/post/28184241618/waving-hijab-nah-waving-flag

Commissioned by Qatar Museums Authority, Hey’Ya: Arab Women in Sport, the first exhibition in London by the internationally renowned photographer Brigitte Lacombe with the documentary maker Marian Lacombe, opened on July 24, 2012 at Sotheby’s Gallery in London in the presence of QMA’s Chief Executive Officer Mansoor Al Khater. The exhibition will stay on view until 11 August 2012 in conjunction with the XXX Olympiad in London.
The exhibition features a brand new series of large-scale photographs by Brigitte Lacombe of more than 50 Arab sportswomen, from beginners to Olympians, from 20 different Arab countries, shown alongside videos by her sister, Marian Lacombe, which situate the images within the women’s personal histories and a wider – often unspoken – discourse of gender, culture and sport in the Arab world.
The exhibition was conceived by the Qatar Museums Authority, combining its long-standing commitment to commissioning and showing the work of internationally renowned artists with the wider goal of the country to drive forward Qatar’s aim of educating and sparking debate about sport, and of persuading more girls to find a way to participate. Commenting on the importance of this exhibition, QMA CEO Mansoor Al Khater said: “This exhibition is a reflection of our belief in the power of culture in breaking down social barriers and building bridges between people of all nations and backgrounds. QMA is committed to enlarging the cultural debate and creating a platform for the voice of Qatar.”

The project, shot over a period of seven months, began in December 2011, in the Athletes Village at the Arab Games in Doha, where Brigitte and Marian Lacombe set up a specially created outdoor studio, working side by side. Thereafter they travelled working with women athletes of all ages and levels of achievement in countries from the Arabian Gulf to North Africa. With the support of Qatar’s Aspire programme, which promotes sporting opportunities for young people, they also worked with the talented younger generation of sporting hopefuls. 
Award-winning French photographer Brigitte Lacombe lives in New York City. Over the last thirty years, she has worked extensively on assignments in magazines, the theatre and film. The long list of legendary directors she has worked with include Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Mike Nichols, Sam Mendes, Michael Haneke, David Mamet, Quentin Tarantino, Spike Jonze, and since 1983 she has worked on all David Mamet’s productions. Her work has been extensively published including two monographs (2001 and 2009). Since 2009, she has been working on an ongoing project for the Doha Film Institute and the Doha Tribeca Film Festival in Qatar. Entitled, I am Film, this is a collection of portraits of international filmmaker and actors, with an emphasis on filmmakers from the Middle East region. 

Marian Lacombe works as an independent documentary film-maker, following 20 years as a reporter, anchorwoman and editor-in-chief on daily news and magazines for the French tv channel M6 in Paris. She has directed documentaries on filmmakers, choreographers and designers such as Robert Altman, Philippe Decouflé and Christian Lacroix. Since 2010, she has been working with Brigitte Lacombe for the Doha Film Institute photographic project I am Film. She also travels around the world filming and working on travel assignments for Condé Nast Traveler Magazine.

QMA Gallery at the Cultural Village, Katara, will play host to the Hey’Ya: Arab Women in Sport exhibition in February 2013. An extensive educational program will complement this exhibition aiming to engage visitors. Hey’Ya, the title of the exhibition is an Arabic expression meaning Let’s Go.
Photo credits:
Photo #1: Artist Brigitte Lacombe
Photo #2: QMA CEO Mansoor Al-Khater
Photo #3: From right to left- Khalid Al-Mansouri - Qatar Ambassador to the UK, Julia Peyton Jones - Serpentine Gallery, H.E. Sheikh Saoud Bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani - Secretary General of Qatar Olympic Committee, Brigitte Lacombe - Artist, Robin Woodhead - Chairman Sotheby's and Mansoor Al-Khater - Qatar Museums Authority CEO.


Aliya Garayeva seeks for gold medal after becoming Azerbaijan’s five-time champion

The Azerbaijani Championship on Rhythmic Gymnastics wrapped up in Baku last month. Azerbaijan Gymnastics Federation reported that Aliya Garayeva, showing the best result in all-around and all the other four types of programs (hoop, ball, ribbon, clubs), became the country’s five-time champion in all-around, AzerTAj reported.
Source: http://ann.az/en/?p=53376

Algeria volleyball queen celebrates second Olympic appaearance

Wing spiker Safia Boukhima (21) is expected to be Algeria's star once the Olympic tournament gets started on Saturday at Earls Court

London, Great Britain, July 25, 2012 – Safia Boukhima, 21, represents the “nouvelle vague” of Algeria national team that will celebrate here in London its second Olympic appearance. The group will actually open the women’s tournament on Saturday by playing Japan and Boukhima is very much likely to be included in the starting six of the African team.

With team captain Fatma Zohra Oukazi – unanimously considered Africa’s best volleyball player – missing the Olympics due to injury and Faiza Tsabet having retired from competitive sport, Boukhima will be the one to watch out for as the Algerian squad around FIVB hero Lydia Oulmou embarks on a quest to perform well at Earls Court.

A talented wing spiker, Boukhima participated in the Beijing Olympics four years ago as a seventeen-year old; this past February she turned into the most prolific scorer for Algeria along the way to an Olympic berth that was claimed by winning the Continental qualifier held in Blida.

Standing at 176 cm, in spite of her age she has already collected 80 caps with the national team after taking up the sport under the guidance of Djamel Cheurfa at ASW Bejaia. Safia is much more than an outstanding volleyball player as she is fully dedicated also to her academic career. She enrolled at the University of Bouzareah this past December with the goal to graduate in Spanish language but first she will be carrying the hopes of Algeria’s volleyball family here in London.

Being able to combine professional sport with her studies, something that not everyone is really capable of, Boukhima will be a good reference here in London also for a few more up-and-coming stars included in Algeria’s national team, e.g. Celia Bourihane (17), the captain of the youth national team Sarra Belhocine and 18-year old Marwa Achour.

“The Olympic Games are the dream of any sportsman and sportswoman” says Safia, “and I am lucky enough to celebrate my second Olympic appearance in London. We hope to be able to perform well even though our team is significantly sidelined by the absence of some players that are regularly included in the starting six. I also have to express my gratitude to the public authorities for the support they have showed as we were getting ready for this unique adventure”.

After playing Japan on Saturday, Algeria will continue its Olympic campaign by taking on the hosts of Great Britain, 2010 world champions Russia, and 2011 FIVB World Cup winner Italy before rounding out the prelims by testing out the likes of the Dominican Republic.

Algeria will try to improve in London its record from the Beijing Olympics where the African champions lost all of their matches, taking only one set from the game against Kazakhstan.
Source: http://www.fivb.org/en/olympics/london2012/viewPressReleaseVB.asp?No=36079&Language=en

Who's Afraid of Muslim Women Exercising?

By Avi SPIEGEL (co-authored with Adina Batnitzky)

Imagine this scenario: a group of women in southern California ask their local YMCA for an extra swim class. The YMCA would have to stay open a bit later than usual, but it happily obliges. It is summer, and the women, who are content to pay for the class, are eager to use this opportunity to improve their health. For many of them, it will even be their first time in the pool.
Why did they ask for this class in the first place? Perhaps their work schedule prohibits them from finding another suitable time. Perhaps they are shy and prefer not to swim around other people, even men. Perhaps this is a unique opportunity for the women in the community to bond together. Any of those reasons would have probably been met with widespread approval or even indifference. None would have sparked the outcry that this class did.
When a San Diego YMCA recently set up an extra swim class for a group of East African Muslim women, it caused an unprecedented backlash. The women who requested this class sought a safe space to exercise without men around -- in a way that would honor their Muslim faith and their personal traditions of modesty.
The website Jihad Watch called the class "racist" and likened it to "all-white swimming hours."
In local outlets, some said it foreshadowed an Islamic "takeover" of our society. Some said the "Y" was sustaining practices, such as veiling, that are supposedly deleterious to women. Others claimed these women should be assimilated not accommodated. For the first time in its history, the website for PBS's local television station cut off all comments.
But such distorted talk about Islam distracts from the matter at hand. This is a public health issue, and if the women were from any other background or religious faith, this controversy would not exist. This swim class should be applauded, promoted and even extended to other communities.
Public health officials are increasingly talking about ways to get people moving in our country. Michelle Obama has helped make promoting exercise and combating obesity a top national concern. But our one-size-fits-all approach to health needs some alterations.
Americans tend to be sympathetic to economic explanations for a lack of physical activity (say, people can't afford gym memberships or don't have the time to exercise because of their busy work schedule). But we have a harder time grappling with cultural norms that might prevent exercise.
The East African community requesting this class is a community with high rates of hypertension and diabetes. Shouldn't we be celebrating their efforts to actively improve their health through exercise?
Research among Muslims in the Arab world (conducted by Adina Batnitzky) has shown that women have higher rates of obesity than men precisely because they rarely have culturally appropriate spaces for exercise. And when such places do exist, they are reserved largely for the upper class.
Isn't it a testament to America that Muslim women of any socioeconomic status can find or even create suitable spaces for exercise here? Even more remarkable is that they are doing this at theYoung Men's Christian Association. Our forefathers, who traveled here to practice their faith in the way they wanted, would be proud.
Some of the most perverse comments suggested that these Muslim women only requested this class because they were being "brainwashed" or "controlled" by their husbands. Why else, this line of thinking goes, would they not want to exercise around men? But many women prefer to exercise only around other women. In fact, all-women's gyms dot the country with very little objection. (Curves is the most famous.) And this class at the "Y" is open to all women, regardless of whether or not they are Muslim.
Public health officials should learn from these women. We are slowly recognizing the need to take patients' backgrounds into consideration when it comes to health care delivery. But we need to do the same when it comes to preventing poor health. More communities should be implementing culturally specific exercise classes, especially for immigrants and ethnic minority groups with higher risks of lifestyle-related diseases.
The women at this YMCA are honoring both their background and their need for better health. That is just the type of thing that will get all Americans moving.
A modified version of this piece appeared in the San Diego Union Tribune. Adina Batnitzky is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of San Diego. Avi Spiegel is an assistant professor of political science and international relations at the University of San Diego and a Fellow at the Strauss Center for International Security and Law.