Ibtihaj Muhammad, of the United States, looks on prior to the start of a women's team sabre qualifying match at the World Fencing Championship in Catania, Italy, Saturday, Oct. 15, 2011. (AP Photo/Carmelo Imbesi)

SXSW Apologises To Olympic Athlete After Asking Her To Remove Hijab

A member of the USA Fencing World Team was asked to remove her hijab by a volunteer at SXSW in order to take a photo for her ID badge.

Sabre fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad took to Twitter to express her dissatisfaction over the religiously insensitive treatment she received. Although she explained to the staff she wears the hijab for religious reasons, they insisted she take it off. 

To add to the insult, Muhammad was then given the wrong ID. Her tweets have since been retweeted 4,000 times.

The skirmish is sure to be an embarrassment for SXSW, which markets itself as an interactive counterculture festival. Muhammad is the first Muslim woman to compete for America in an international fencing competition and the first US Olympian to ever don a hijab. She was attending the festival as a part of the panel, ‘The New Church: Sport as Currency of American Life’.

According to The Chicago Tribune, Muhammad told the panel that she “had a crappy experience checking in” and then added: “Someone asking me to remove my hijab isn’t out of the norm for me. Do I hope it changes soon? Yes, every day.”

When asked if she was worried about sponsors reactions who might not like her making a fuss out of the situation, Muhammad replied, “If a sponsor wants to walk away … they weren’t meant for me anyway.” Muhammad’s corporate sponsors include Visa.

SXSW has since issued an apology, stating: “It is not our policy that a hijab or any religious head covering be removed in order to pick up a SXSW badge. This was one volunteer who made an insensitive request and that person has been removed for the duration of the event. We are embarrassed by this and have apologized to Ibtihaj in person, and sincerely regret this incident.” The SXSW film festival volunteer has since been sacked.

This isn’t the only controversy to mire the festival. Crystal Castles was removed from Tumblr’s Feminist SXSW showcase due to member Ethan Kath‘s treatment of ex-member Alice Glass.

Muhammad, who is originally from New Jersey, began fencing at the age of 13 and competed at Duke University. She is currently ranked seventh in the world and will compete in the upcoming Rio Olympics this summer. 

Image: thecelebritea