Terengganu female athletes free to wear what they want, says sports minister

Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman called the fixation with what athletes wear ridiculous and cynical.  — Picture by Choo Choy May
Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman called the fixation with what athletes wear ridiculous and cynical. — Picture by Choo Choy May

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 15 — Putrajaya has overruled the plan by the Terengganu government to impose strict Shariah rules for its female athletes, according to Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman.

The youth and sports minister told BFM Radio in an interview this morning that what athletes choose to wear “is his or her right”, and that focus should be on their contribution to the country instead of attire.

“What the athletes choose to wear is his or her right,” he said.

“In the end what matters is that we are looking at a national hero or heroine who works tirelessly to represent Malaysia, who will work night to morning non-stop to win that gold medal and inspire millions of other Malaysians.”

Syed Saddiq met Terengganu’s Youth Development, Sports and Non-Government Development Committee chairman Wan Sukairi Wan Abdullah immediately after the state’s plan to ban rhythmic gymnastics was reported in the media.

Wan Sukairi reportedly said the plan to ban the sport is due to its attire being too exposed, and that the PAS-led state government want a shariah-compliant code of conduct to be observed by athletes performing in Terengganu.

“In the end status quo prevails,” Syed Saddiq said on the Breakfast Grille programme, noting that the state government merely made “a recommendation” and has yet to implement it.

The issue again pitted the country’s ethnic majority against each other with conservative Malays saying they support the idea of a shariah-compliant attire for athletes, while their moderate and liberal counterparts viewed it as extreme and an infringement on personal liberty.

Syed Saddiq appeared to side the latter, calling the fixation with what athletes wear ridiculous and cynical. 

He pointed to the harassment of national rhythmic gymnast Farah Ann Abdul Hadi as example, and how the athlete was heckled and insulted on social media for wearing a supposedly skimpy attire despite being one of the best in the sport.

“That line of criticism came in: that she’s un-Islamic, ah, she’s not dressed modestly,” he noted.

“I mean I asked these sceptics to look at Farah Ann’s contribution to the country and how much work she had to put in.”

Farah Ann had won the bronze in floor exercise and team event at Artistic Celtic Cup-Commonwealth Invitational in Perth, Scotland, and won her first gold in the South East Asian Games in 2015.

The 25 year-old recently qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the highest level sporting event.  

* A previous version of this story contained an error which has since been corrected.

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