Tahani Alqahtani (KSA) and personal freedom / IJF.org


Wodjan Shaherkani was the first, the first Saudi woman to compete in the Olympics. She was just a teenager and in 2012, at the London Games, there was a lot of talk about her participation. In Saudi Arabia at that time there was a law about women covering their heads at all times in public. For Wojdan to compete, some concessions had to be made, bridging the gaps between religion, law, sport and individual values.

From London, Fahmy Joud has also competed at the Olympic level, fighting at -52kg in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and in Tokyo it was Tahani Alqahtani. Tahani has now been part of the IJF World Judo Circuit for 18 months and has competed in 5 Grand Slams, a Grand Prix, a World Championship and the 2021 Olympics.

Tokyo Olympics, 2021

“The first, Wojdan, was important. She made it possible for us, made it easier for us. The first is always difficult. She no longer competes but participated in the last Saudi Games. She was quite alone at the time in London, in judo, because she mainly worked with her father and had no network of friends or colleagues around her.

Image and perception are important words in all aspects of life and sport is no exception, nor is religion. The image of Saudi Arabia seen from the outside is inextricably linked to the Islamic faith, but in recent years there has been a change, a modern twist that allows sport, technology, art and culture to be at the forefront with faith as the backbone, the foundation that secures everything. The Saudi King and his son Prince Mohammed Bin Salman Al Saud have been instrumental in developing the sport in the country, Alqahtani said, citing the accelerated involvement of women, especially over the past 4-5 years.

“In Saudi Arabia we have 5 judo competitions a year, 3 at the same events as the men and 2 by ourselves: the Saudi Games and 4 others. There are great financial rewards for winning these Games and I just to win gold there. These are huge rewards and are equal for men and women. The event is like this to encourage our communities to really care about the sport.

Culturally, parents do not prioritize sport. They want their children to become engineers or doctors. Sport was not given prominence, but now the government is pushing for sport, supporting us with time away from school and work. They take care of our trips and our expenses. I also have a salary.

Tahani in Baku

When I was younger, I was a real feminist but today I am a humanist, a believer in the rights of all. I think it comes from judo and these attitudes really helped me a lot. I started judo in 2018 after my mother passed away from cancer. Judo is so difficult and of course I can’t hope to be at the highest level in less than 5 years. Sport really helps me grow. It brings real respect to my life.

After the Tokyo Games, I was attacked a lot on social media because I fought against an Israeli opponent but really there were also so many people from Saudi Arabia who supported me in this difficult period. My government was supportive. In this sport, I respect everyone no matter what and I’m proud that my country pushes for such equality and openness.

I also thank Chiho Takada, my trainer, who accompanied me from the beginning. I grow up with her too. I have to continue to have confidence in myself and in my team. It’s not easy being outside my community, traveling the world as an Arab girl. I push myself and feel that if I can handle that pressure, I can always keep improving. It is a judo maxim. I will continue to work to deserve it. I want to give myself a chance like all the people here who train so hard. I prove to myself that with ten years of judo and always doing my best, I can earn the right to win. I take this chance in life.

Participate in the Baku Grand Slam 2022

I was in Georgia to train in June, then in Spain, then in Romania for a camp. Then we went to the European Open in Cluj and Zagreb. I was in Saudi Arabia for 2 weeks and then in Konya. Then we went to Azerbaijan to train from August until the Grand Slam in Abu Dhabi at the end of October. After that it’s the Saudi Games and straight to Baku. We will be staying here for another month before moving on to Tokyo. Then finally we rest.

A defeat in Baku

My first big goal is Paris 2024. If I don’t achieve it, I won’t stop, I won’t give up easily and I will continue towards LA 2028. During the training, I also study anesthesiology at the University of Almarfa and so when I retire from competitive judo I have a career plan.

Tahani sees a future for all Saudi women, a future with opportunity, choice, freedom and inclusion. “Our prince says he wants a whole country; he is the pint of change and his father, the king, supports him. He says women are half of the community so we need to make sure our community is whole and supportive of everyone. In addition to our leaders, we have other truly pioneering ones, like Reema Bint Bandar Al Saud. She is Saudi and is the first Saudi woman to serve as the country’s ambassador; she lives in the United States. She helps all girls in sport in Saudi Arabia and always checks what she can do to make our environments more positive. She helped me find ways to manage college fees; she is always generous with us and that is a great lesson. All women and girls should always support each other. She is so strong and does not allow anyone to hold her back from her goals. She is a wonderful role model for all of us, for Saudi girls in sport and also outside of sport.

Over the past few years the law has changed at home and there are no longer any rules regarding coverage in public. You see me here without a scarf and it’s the same at home. Equality in Saudi Arabia is becoming more of a reality than ever. We have a positive outlook from our king, ambassadors, sports coaches, educational institutions and more. It was the community we had to win over, not the government. It’s still difficult but we have the full support of the federation, the NOC and of course the IJF. Now I think I can show other girls how it can be, like Wojdan and Foumy and Reema showed me. The juniors follow me and they need to see what is possible, just like London and Rio showed me.

An Always Positive Tahani (KSA)

Tahani’s incredibly positive outlook is a lesson, a powerful one. She shows us how the past has influenced her future, how sport plays a role in progress, how leadership can inspire generations and how the values ​​of judo permeate it all. This is a strong and necessary message, not only for the women and girls of Saudi Arabia, but for all people who want to move forward, all people with goals.

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