Abu Dhabi: A month ago UAE’s Eman Mohammad and her teammates Sheffa Moosa Hassan and Shamsa Hassan were not allowed to compete in the European Open Jiu-Jitsu championships in Portugal for wearing a hijab.
They were instead asked to wear swimming headgear by the organisers even though that would not fully cover their necks.
The entire UAE team pulled out in protest as such a move was in conflict with their religious beliefs.
On Saturday, the trio all won gold in their respective categories at the Abu Dhabi Jiu-jitsu Cup.
They also sent out a clear message to the European Jiu-jitsu Union that a hijab is no hindrance when it comes to competing at the highest level and that it is time for the governing body to overturn the ban.
“We were disappointed to miss out on the competition but we stood our ground,” said Mohammad after winning gold in the 60kg blue belt category. “It was about safeguarding our religious belief. It doesn’t affect our performance and it is our wish to perform with a hijab.
“They didn’t understand how much these things mean to us, and if we didn’t have a problem in fighting with hijab, I don’t understand why they have a problem.”
In 2012, Caroline De Lazzer, the then-coach of the UAE women’s jiu-jitsu team, had led a campaign to lift the ban on the hijab so her fighters could take part in international competitions. That matter is still pending.
“We took part in a competition in America and never faced a problem, so we were a bit surprised in Portugal,” Mohammad said. “Hopefully, we will not face any such problem later.
“I tried the swimming headgear, but it is of no help and keeps coming out. We use a hijab because of a reason, and if that cause is not served, we couldn’t have compromised. The world championships are here and so we will be able to participate and that’s when we can show how good we are.”
Mohammad admitted that combining work and training for the world championships in April was a challenge.
“The competition will be stiff at the world championships and you need to spend time,” she said after defeating María Luisa Sanchez of Spain in the final. “It becomes difficult to get time off ahead of the tournament as I had taken leave for the Portugal tournament earlier this year. Hopefully, this medal will help and my office to allow me more time to train.”
In the brown and black 60kg category, Vanessa Nascimento of Brazil got the better of her compatriot Marina Soares Ribeiro to claim gold.
“This was my first tournament,” she said. “I just came here three months back from Brazil and started working here. So it was great to come and win the first tournament that I participated in.
“I have been training for the last 14 years but there are not many competitions back home. Here there is lot of support for the sport and that’s a good thing for me. Now I can look forward for the world championships.”
In the men’s brown-black masters open weight category, Dimitrios Tsitos defeated Seena Munfaredi of Bahrain to clinch gold.
Tsistos made the switch from representing Greece for seven years in swimming to jiu-jitsu in 2002 after he learned about the sport on a trip to Brazil.
Tsistos represented the Greece swimming team in butterfly and freestyle and also appeared at the junior Olympics.
“Jiu-jitsu required the same commitment, workload and the mental aptitude that one needs to be on top of one’s game in swimming, so the transition was pretty easy for me,” said Tsistos, who has won several medals in the UAE. “The good thing about the transformation for me is that I have been able to travel around the world.
“I have been taking part in the Ramadan Cup for the past three years and have won three golds and a silver in my absolute class from 2009 to 2011.”