Zahra Lari, the first woman to take part in in­ter­na­tional fig­ure skat­ing com­pe­ti­tion wear­ing a head­scarf

Tehran Times - - WOMEN -

A 22-year-old fig­ure skater, who was the first woman to com­pete in­ter­na­tion­ally wear­ing a head­scarf af­ter be­ing in­spired to take up the sport pro­fes­sion­ally by watch­ing a Dis­ney film, has helped the United Arab Emi­rates be­come the first Arab state to join the In­ter­na­tional Skat­ing Union [ISU] de­spite the near-com­plete ab­sence of snow and ice in the Per­sian Gulf.

Zahra Lari, from the United Arab Emi­rates, has been fig­ure skat­ing for 10 years af­ter first tak­ing to the ice while she was still at school, squeez­ing in ses­sions be­fore and af­ter her classes by wak­ing up at 04:30 in the morn­ing.

Her fa­ther took her to train at Abu Dhabi’s only ice rink, lo­cated in the Zayed Sports City, but im­me­di­ately dis­cov­ered the dif­fi­cul­ties of be­ing a young Emi­rati woman who had to skate in front of men, which can cause its prob­lems in a con­ser­va­tive Mus­lim coun­try.

“I be­gan skat­ing when I was 12 years old, af­ter watch­ing the Dis­ney movie ‹Ice Princess›,” Lari told CNN. “My fa­ther felt that it went too much against our nor­mal tra­di­tions and cul­ture for a girl to com­pete in sports.”

With fig­ure skat­ing of­ten see­ing com­peti­tors wear tight and re­veal­ing out­fits, Lari’s fa­ther did not ap­prove of her en­ter­ing com­pe­ti­tions, and this pre­vented her from join­ing oth­ers on the ice as the was grow­ing up through her teenage years.

“As a fam­ily, we went to com­pe­ti­tions only to cheer for my friends that were com­pet­ing,” she added. But Lari’s fa­ther soon gave in to his daugh­ter’s wishes due to the hap­pi­ness that the sport brought her, and now the UAE has be­come the first Arab state to join the ISU thanks to Lari’s ex­ploits.

“Now he is my big­gest sup­porter,” Lari added of her fa­ther, hav­ing taken mea­sures to en­sure that she main­tains her fam­ily’s tra­di­tions while com­pet­ing. In­stead of wear­ing see-through fab­rics such as Ly­cra, Lari dons opaque cloth to make up her out­fit, along with thick leg­gings that cover up her legs.

How­ever, it is her head­scarf that at­tracts the most at­ten­tion, hav­ing be­come the first skater to com­pete while wear­ing one at the Euro­pean Cup in Canazei, Italy, back in 2012. Such was the con­tro­versy, the judges de­ducted her a point for an out­fit vi­o­la­tion.

“I re­ally don›t have any neg­a­tive feel­ings to­wards this rul­ing,” says Lari. “The judges at that time had never seen some­one com­pete with it so they re­ally didn›t know how to score me.

“The head of the ISU de­vel­op­ment at that time, re­quested to see me while I was in Hun­gary. He wanted to see the scarf and un­der­stand how safe it was on the ice.”

She sub­se­quently cam­paigned for a change to the reg­u­la­tions, and at the Ne­bel­horn Tro­phy in Ger­many, of­fi­cials were told not to con­sider the head­scarf a vi­o­la­tion to the strict reg­u­la­tions on skat­ing at­tire. How­ever, this has not been a per­ma­nent change, with the ISU con­firm­ing that “as­sess­ment of the rule and whether it needs to be more spe­cific for the fu­ture is on­go­ing”.

Lari missed out on qual­i­fi­ca­tion for next year’s Win­ter Olympics in South Korea, al­though at 22 years old she still has time on her hands to achieve her ul­ti­mate dream.

“My goals go be­yond be­ing the first per­son to rep­re­sent the UAE at a Win­ter Olympics,” she added. “I want to com­pete at the Four Con­ti­nents Fig­ure Skat­ing Cham­pi­onships and the World Cham­pi­onships. Th­ese com­pe­ti­tions are my cur­rent goal.”

Zahra Lari was the first fig­ure skater to com­pete wear­ing a head scarf

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