Sports

Hijab-wearing US fencer exits Rio with head held high

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RIO DE JANEIRO: Fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad said she was proud to represent the United States and hailed a “beautiful experience” despite being knocked out of the Rio Olympics women’s sabre competition on Monday.

Muhammad, who became the first US Olympian to compete in a hijab, said she hoped she had done her bit to change attitudes about Muslim women.

“This has been a beautiful experience for me. I know that this was written for me, the chips fell where they did and I feel proud to represent Team USA even in defeat,” said the 30-year-old.

Muhammad’s tournament ended 15-12 to France’s Cecilia Berder in the table of 16, but it was a significant appearance for an athlete who says she has suffered discrimination since childhood.

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Muhammad’s participation in Rio comes in the midst of a US presidential election campaign marked by anti-Islamic rhetoric while incidents of threats and vandalism at mosques reached an all-time high last year.

“It’s hard to explain,” she said, when asked how it felt to walk out as the first American athlete to wear the traditional Muslim headgear, or hijab.

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“There’s so many emotions running though your body in that moment and you’re trying to focus solely on you’re opponent and try to remember your actions and your plan.”

She said she aimed to explode stereotypes about Muslim women and blaze a trail for other Muslim girls to get involved in sport.

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“A lot of people believe that Muslim women don’t have voices or that we (don’t) participate in sport. And it’s not just to challenge the misconceptions outside the Muslim community, but also within the Muslim community,” she said.

“I want to break cultural norms and show girls that it’s important to be active, it’s important to be involved in sport.”

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