If you haven’t already met her, it’s our pleasure to introduce Zahra Lari.
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Lari made headlines recently when she became the first figure skater from an Arab state (Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates) to ever participate in an International Skating Union (ISU) competition.
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If that wasn’t a big enough achievement, the 22-year-old Muslim athlete is also the first skater to compete while sporting a headscarf.
You may think this is no big deal, simply an extra piece of fabric to adorn her figure skating costume. But in 2012, during the European Cup in Canazei, Italy, Lari wore her headscarf to compete publicly for the first time — and it didn’t go over well. She was deducted points for her headscarf, the judges citing it as an outfit violation.
Lari took the unfair point system like a true champion. “I really don’t have any negative feelings towards this ruling,” she told CNN. “The judges at that time had never seen someone compete with it, so they really didn’t know how to score me.”
Her headscarf isn’t the only piece of fabric that has presented Lari with a problem, though. When she first started skating at age 12, after being inspired by the Disney movie Ice Princess, she immediately came across another wardrobe complication.
In her home state of Abu Dhabi, she’s expected to dress conservatively, often donning an abaya (a large, robe-like garment). The ensemble isn’t conducive to training competitively for figure skating, however, so Lari fought to practice in more practical — but tight — ice skating training outfits.
Her father prevented Lari from skating at first, citing the fitted clothing she was expected to wear. “My father felt that it went too much against our normal traditions and culture for a girl to compete in sports,” she explained to CNN.
But Lari put her passion above her fears and showed her dad why skating was so important to her. Today, Lari says her father is her biggest supporter.
While the clothing question has been resolved with her father, Lari is currently campaigning for the ISU to change its point-deduction stance on headscarves.
While in Hungary recently, the head of ISU development requested to see Lari to better understand her headscarf. He ruled that it was safe on the ice, and the judges should not take it into consideration when scoring Lari.
This, however, was an isolated event. The question of whether her headscarf will be considered an outfit violation in the future is an ongoing process with the ISU, but Lari isn’t slowing down in the meantime.
In September, she competed in the qualifying games for the 2018 Winter Olympics, and although she didn’t make the team, it’s a stride in the right direction toward her dreams of competing at the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships and the World Championships.
Plus, thanks to her groundbreaking efforts for equality, Lari also landed a Nike campaign in 2017.
Pushing forward the history of figure skating while fighting for religious freedom, almost qualifying for the Olympics, and landing a Nike campaign? We can’t wait to see what 2018 holds for this incredible skater.