International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) Paves the Way in Creating a More Inclusive Sport Environment

I am in Ottawa this weekend participating in the centennial celebrations of the Canadian PGA, and I had the opportunity to have lunch with my friend and colleague Moira Lassen, who is an international official with the sport of weightlifting and a member of the IWF’s Technical Committee.

Moira had just returned from the World Junior Weightlifting Championships in Malaysia and she shared with me the upbeat news that the IWF (a very traditional organization serving a masculine sport if ever there was one) has recently taken a huge step forward to be inclusive of different genders and cultures.

This development was a leading story in many Arab media outlets but did not really register here in Canada. But it is significant – and for those of us tired of the patriarchal sport rule-makers who want female badminton players to compete in skirts and female beach volleyball players to compete wearing almost no clothes at all, it is refreshing.

On June 29, 2011 the Congress of the IWF revised their rules to allow any competitor to wear a one piece, full-body unitard that will cover the knees and elbows. It may be of any solid colour (a patterned colour would potentially interfere with an official being able to confirm that a lift has been executed cleanly). Over top of this the competitor must wear the compulsory weightlifting costume of singlet and shorts, but they no longer need to be close-fitting as was stated in the previous rules.

Head gear of any type may also be worn – interestingly, there was never a prohibition on head gear in this sport but the new rules have clarified that any head gear is now considered to be a part of the competitor’s body for the purpose of determining the clean execution of a lift (the barbell must be above the top of the hair and above any other item that is covering the head).

The issue was brought before the IWF by the United States Olympic Committee and USA Weightlifting, in support of an American Muslim competitor. The new rules take effect immediately and will have a considerable impact in September 2011 at the Arab Games. Twenty-two Muslim nations will compete at these Games, ten in weightlifting and all of those ten will have female competitors.

Sports like badminton, soccer and volleyball should take note. I would not recommend that anyone try weightlifting or playing soccer in a beehive hairdo, but a hijab should be no obstacle to participation in any sport. Nor should loose fitting clothing, that for many women may be necessary for modesty and decency.

Moira, who is the Chair-Elect of CAAWS (Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women in Sport) would not confirm it with me, but I suspect she played a significant and influential role in the discussions of this issue before the Technical Committee. Don’t doubt that tenacious individuals, in the right place at the right time, can contribute to positive changes such as this one.

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