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26 Feb, 2019 14:00

Hijab-wearing ‘Ice Princess’ set for University Games in Russia

Hijab-wearing ‘Ice Princess’ set for University Games in Russia

Emirati figure skater Zahra Lari, the first woman to compete internationally wearing a traditional Muslim headscarf, is set to take part in the University Games in Krasnoyarsk, which will run from March 2 till 12.

READ MORE: ‘Symbol of oppression’: Swedish swimming chief steps down after criticizing Muslim headscarf

The 23-year-old is the first skater to represent the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on the global stage, allowing the country to become the first Arab state to join the International Skating Union (ISU).

Lari took up the sport when she was 12 after being inspired by the Disney movie ‘Ice Princess’, which focuses on the story of a college senior who gives up a scholarship at Harvard to pursue her new-found dream of being a professional figure skater.

Lari embarked on a figure skating career despite the near-complete absence of snow and ice in the Persian Gulf. She started training at Abu Dhabi’s only ice rink, despite the perception held by many in the region that Arab women should not take up sports.

The girl’s father did not approve of her passion for sports, as figure skating competitors generally wear curve-hugging and revealing outfits, something which is considered unacceptable for a woman living in a conservative Muslim country.

My dad actually stopped me from competing in the beginning, not because he didn’t accept me, but he was scared of what society would say about his daughter doing the sport,” Lari said.

However, her determination and perseverance paid off as her father finally allowed her to enter sports competitions.

She made her international debut at the European Cup in Canazei, Italy, back in 2012, immediately gaining public attention after the judges deducted her a point for wearing a headscarf.

Lari campaigned to change the strict regulations, leading the ISU to amend the rule which now doesn’t see the hijab as an outfit violation.

The skater failed to qualify for the 2018 Olympics in South Korea, but hasn’t given up her dream of representing the UAE at the Winter Games.

In order to gain the necessary international experience she will take part in the 2019 University Games, where Russian figure skating stars Elizaveta Tuktamysheva and Stanislava Konstantinova will also appear.