In the world of competitive women’s wrestling, Muslim athletes are often forced to choose between their faith and their sport.
Repeatedly, female Muslim athletes at the high school and collegiate levels have been stonewalled over their requests to honor Islamic modesty laws in the wrestling ring – and they say there’s no real reason why.
Wrestling With Discrimination
Wrestling is one of the fastest growing sports for women, but Muslim athletes often run into roadblocks to competing due to their faith.
Many female Muslims observe rules which state that women are to dress modestly, in full coverage clothes as well as the wearing of a hijab.
In theory, there should be no issue. While wrestlers wear singlets during matches, many Muslim athletes have fashioned their own full-coverage outfits, under which they wear the singlet.
However, in practice, athletes seeking to cover up have repeatedly run into issues.
United World Wrestling (UWW) governs international amateur wrestling events, and their stringent rules around dress have forced promising young Muslim athletes to forfeit incredible opportunities to compete in a global stage.
Sisters Jamilah, Latifah, and Zaynah McBryde are widely recognized as some of the most promising young wrestlers in the United States. Last year, Latifah placed second in a high profile wrestling tournament in Texas, earning her a spot to compete representing the United States at the Pan-American Women’s Wrestling Championship.
But UWW, which runs the event, declined her requests to wear clothing over her wrestling singlet, pointing her to their standard uniform guidelines. Latifah McBryde ultimately chose not to compete and forfeited her coveted and well-earned spot. She now wrestles for Life University in Georgia.
At the heart of the frustration for Muslim athletes is the belief that no one should have to choose between their faith and sport. They say that there’s no real reason they can’t wear clothing honoring their faith during competition; It offers no competitive advantage and there are no safety concerns. Critics say it’s just plain old discrimination.
“It’s men who have no contact or information or input from women who are actually Muslim who are creating these regulations,” explains Shireen Ahmed, senior contributor to CBC Sports. “It’s outwardly anti-Muslim in its sentiment. There’s no way to sugarcoat it.”
Finding Common Ground
However, there have also been areas of compromise.
USA Wrestling (the body which governs wrestling competition in the United States) is often accommodating, allowing female Muslim wrestlers to compete in their modified outfits or to wear hijab during matches. And some Muslim men have been granted exemptions to wear beards during wrestling tournaments, which is otherwise not allowed.
Still, it’s taken a long time to get here. Muhamed McBryde - brother to the aforementioned McBryde sisters and a talented wrestler in his own right - missed nearly a year of wrestling at the University of Buffalo before the NCAA allowed him to wear a beard in matches back in 2013.
And some Muslim athletes say that things still aren’t always fair. Some have pointed out that referees have failed to stop matches if their hijab slips into their eyes, for example.
While the onus is on wrestlers to request waivers and ensure that they are in compliance with all rules, at least USA Wrestling works with them. Once things go international, Muslim athletes, particularly women, are often forced to forfeit for out-of-compliance dress – and they say it’s time for things to change.
What do you think? When it comes to athletics, should we carve out religious accommodations? Why or why not?
Should athletes be forced to choose between honoring their faith and competing in sports?
I never wrestled in school cause I didn't like the idea of trying to get on top of another dude. No big deal. If people don't like the rules of a sport then don't play. What's so hard about that? Sounds like the usual case of IMeMy syndrome.
Minister Najah Tamargo
I do not think it's a "religious" thing, I think it's a "woman" thing. And that has been going on in the sports world forever!!
Douglas Robert Spindler what does Christians have to do with this? It's the sports thats doing this.
Considering the United States is currently endeavoring to make certain no Christian is ever even mildly inconvenienced in the public practice of their faith, I'm not sure how equal treatment can be justly denied to other religions.
If you can't abide by the rules of the sport then don't compete in the sport. Why is this a discussion?
Why is it Christians have a problem with everything and complain about it. Can't think of another religion where that happens.
As a Christian that believes that a wrestler to dress as thy want, there choice. Lucha libre wear masks, in the 1970s The females were covered, so what's the big deal in wrestling, or is it a T&A thing. It's only entertainment.
Lucha libre wear masks because the rules allow it. The females were covered back in the day because the rules allowed for it. Now they do not, but some want to change them. These women could either pick a different sport, or go to their imams and ask for special dispensation while wrestling.
The rules of wrestling require one kind of uniform, their religion requires a different kind of uniform. So, which rule is "arbitrary"?
First World Problems...
The article mentioned having to stop the match when it slides into the athlete's eyes. Does that happen often enough to be too much of a disruption? Do the extra 'modesty' clothes prevent the wrestling opponent from grappling or getting hold of the athlete they otherwise would have the opportunity to do?
In an interview on the matter, UWW Secretary General Carlos Roy said McBryde’s request was the first of its kind to UWW, despite “having a lot of Muslim women already competing in our events.”
He said McBryde’s proposed uniform should be “tested in real conditions” at “lower level competitions, but certainly not in a continental championship.” He also said other wrestlers should be consulted on whether alternative uniforms “would affect their techniques and their preparation.” (Source: The Buffalo News, 25 July 2022)
Since the question is her choice of uniform, and they have other Muslim women competing in UWW events, it seems unlikely this is religious discrimination.
“ At the heart of the frustration for Muslim athletes is the belief that no one should have to choose between their faith and sport. ”
Well, now they have TWO irrational beliefs. The world isn’t going to change to accommodate the delusional thinking exhibited by religious people.
Bishop Bill saith: let them who oppose seeing too much of the human body, participate, in a totally dark room, that way, only their mythological God, and perhaps the Holy Ghost, can actually see the body their mythological God provided to them - which is in their own mythological God’s image.
@William Dusenberry You do realize THEIR mythological God is the same as the Christian God and the Mormon God.
And the Jewish God.
But as to the controversy about the required clothing for wrestling, sorry but everyone needs to comply. She knew ahead of time about the clothing or lack of. Rolling around on a mat and physically touching another body is probably a lot more intimate contact than simply showing skin. It would seem that she should seek a sport that is mote fitting to her faith.
Thank you Colleen. You are right I should have included the Jewish God. You know this the perfect example of evolution. In the beginning their was on God and one word of God. Over the past 2,000 years that one religion and one word of God has evolved into many different versions of the Bible, the Quran, the Book of Mormon and I'm sure there are many more and over 50,000 Christians religions.
Excellent point. The Abrahamic cousins are ‘inbred’ and therefore not too smart.
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No wrestling is "modest". If one chooses to wear a hijab, the opponent may choose to pull it over her eyes. If the opponent needs to grip an uncovered arm by the rules, then both need to wear hijabs and then we have a new sport.
Could they go to their imam and ask for some form of dispensation from the religious dress requirements while wrestling? It seems that it would make a lot more sense than changing how wrestling is done for one group of people.
Keep the rules as they are and have been. If you want to compete follow the rules. It is no different from stopping at red lights and going on green. That is the law, just do it.
If the covering neither hinders nor gives advantage to the woman wrestler, it should be acceptable to the governing officials.
The only strict and non negotiable regulation in women’s wrestling, should be that they must be a biological woman.
How far should religious accommodations go? What if losing is death? Yes this facetious, however 'doctrine" can dictate extreme rules.
Muslim women should be able to participate wearing modest clothing like any other athlete should (I imagine Orthodox Jewish women who wear modest dress would also benefit). Why not allow it? It wouldn't be difficult to get a group of imams, other religious leaders (eg. rabbis) wrestling experts, women, and clothing experts together to come up with safe options for modest religious women to participate while still wearing modest dress and being safe in the ring. Our military accommodates Muslim and Sikh servicemembers, why not sports as well?
Maybe, just maybe, the REAL issue is not the sport’s dress code, but rather Islam’s misogynistic “rules”.
They should be able to wear what they want, but I would draw the line at stoppages when her hijab falls in her eyes. That's her problem, not theirs.
As long as competitors have met all other expectations, and as long as the competitors' chosen attire does not provide a specific advantage in the sport, I don't see a problem. People of all genders, faiths and levels of comfort/modesty or otherwise, should be respected in the choices they make in order to compete. These fringe issues, somehow always related to women, women of certain faiths, LGBTQ +/- or whatever folks are nonsensical and nothing more than media fodder. (eg: I feel there is a big difference between someone who transitioned while quite young, which is currently under threat, competing versus someone who transitioned as an adult) I feel the same way about women who chose to be modest in their attire, or flamboyant in their attire. I would also like to question the makers of the rules, which hopefully are not being managed by sexual perpetrators: there has been quite enough of that in women's sports, and sports of all sorts for that matter. Accommodate, not discriminate. tk