Meet Zahra Lari, the world's first headscarf-wearing professional figure-skater

Meet Zahra Lari, the world's first headscarf-wearing professional figure skater
3 min read
30 November, 2017
The UAE has become the first Arab state to join the International Skating Union thanks to up-and-coming athlete Zahra Lari, the first headscarf-wearing figure skater to compete internationally.
Lari maintains her family's traditions while competing [Getty]
Despite the blistering heat of the Persian Gulf and any snowfall being a national phenomenon, the United Arab Emirates has become the first Arab state to join the International Skating Union (ISU), which administrates ice skating sports.

The move is thanks to 22-year-old figure skater Zahra Lari, who is not only the first skater from a Gulf state to participate in international figure skating competitions, but also the first to do so wearing a headscarf. 

Lari has been skating for ten years after being inspired to take up the sport professionally by watching Disney film Ice Princess.

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 skating in front of men in a conservative Muslim society.

"My father felt that it went too much against our normal traditions and culture for a girl to compete in sports," Lari told CNN.

Lari's father did not approve of her entering competitions wearing tight, revealing outfits typical of figure-skaters, and this prevented her from joining others on the ice through her teenage years.

Zahra Lari
Zahra Lari has been skating since she was ten years old [Getty]

But after seeing his daughter's enthusiasm for the sport, her father relented.

"As a family, we went to competitions only to cheer for my friends that were competing," she said. 

"Now he is my biggest supporter," she said. 
Instagram Post

Lari maintains her family's traditions while competing. Instead of wearing see-through fabrics such as Lycra, Lari wears opaque fabrics, along with thick leggings that cover up her legs.

But the matching headscarf posed a problem the first time she competed in Europe wearing the covering.
In 2012 at the European Cup in Canazei, Italy, the judges deducted points from her score for an outfit violation.

"I really don't have any negative feelings towards this ruling," Lari said.

"The judges at that time had never seen someone compete with it so they really didn't know how to score me."

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 attire.  

While there hasn't been a permanent change to the rules, the ISU confirmed that "assessment of the rule and whether it needs to be more specific for the future is ongoing".

Despite not qualifying for the Winter Olympics in South Korea, Lari has set her goals on competing in the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships and the World Championships.

The student, currently completing a degree in environment health and safety at Abu Dhabi University, also saw her profile rise this year when she took part in Nike's online campaign, "What Will They Say About You?", with a number of other Arab female athletes to encourage women in the region to push the boundaries to pursue their dreams.