London 2012 is the first Olympics where women will compete in all 26 sports on offer(although still in 30 fewer events in total), and Fifa is just one of several international bodies to relax clothing rules and so allow more Muslim women to compete in the Games.
What female athletes wear should get less attention than it does, but for many women who want to cover up, sports clothing can be a barrier to competition. The capster, a hood-style hijab that was created by Dutch designer Cindy van den Bremen, who started working on the design back in 1999 after cases of girls being excluded from PE lessons for wearing the hijab. It is designs such as this, she says, that have addressed health-and-safety concerns and allowed bans to be overturned.
It’s not just the practicality of the design, but the image it portrays that helps. “Traditional scarves stick out in sport and are not made from appropriate materials. Because the new styles look sporty, the wearer is not highlighted as different in the same way.”
The importance of hijab-wearing athletes as role models should inspire many Muslim women and girls. Rimla Akhtar from the Muslim Women in Sport Foundation said there were other barriers than dress holding women back, but it was important for women to have a choice: “A way has been found of combining women’s passion for sport with their passion for their faith and the sports hijab will certainly aid women’s participation in sport at all levels.”