United World Wrestling Bans Teen Wrestler From Competing in Full-Coverage Uniform & Hijab
Current Events
May 28, 2022
Dilshad Ali
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Latifah competing at the world team trials.
Latifah McBryde has been wrestling for nearly 12 years from the tender age of five. And while traditionally wrestlers wear singlets (a tight one-piece uniform, often sleeveless, made of spandex/lycra or nylon), she and her sisters fashioned their own uniform in which they could dress modestly while safely wrestling (under which they wear the singlet).
“We’re a wrestling family,” says Latifah in an interview with Haute Hijab. She and her six siblings, have all been homeschooled in Buffalo, NY, with four them now in college or beyond. Four of the McBryde kids wrestle and were coached by their father, Mustafa McBryde. The eldest McBryde child, Muhamed, is now a wrestling coach himself at the University of West Virginia and still trains and competes in tournaments.
The McBryde wrestlers are good. Really good.
They’ve competed in prestigious wrestling tournaments in Canada and the U.S. as well as on a national level with USA Wrestling. But, as with many other Muslim female athletes at high school, college and national levels before her, Latifah has been banned from international competition at the Pan-American championship this summer due to her modest uniform and her hijab by United World Wresting, the international wrestling governing body.
In May, 17-year-old Latifah earned a spot on the U.S. national team at the 72 kg weight class by placing second in the U20 division at the competition in Texas. As the second-place winner, she would be representing the United States to compete in the Pan-American championships this July in Mexico. But after returning home to Buffalo, she and her father received a call from Cody Bickley, the U.S. national team’s high performance manager of coaches and education telling him that UWW would not grant Latifah a religious waiver to compete. And even if she traveled to Mexico to compete on her own dime, she would not be allowed.
Banned from wrestling because of how she wants to dress in competition, which UWW deems to be a safety risk and also a possible advantage in competition.
Her father, Mustafa, said this was the very thing he was worried about when he started entering his daughters in competition at the urging of local coaches. New York laws don’t allow homeschooled children to compete in interscholastic athletics, so Mustafa had his kids wrestle with clubs like the Buffalo Wrestling Club, which is affiliated with the University of Buffalo.
Latifah poses with other national team members of the USMC Women's Nationals and World Team Trials in Texas, May 2022.
“For many years I would not involve them in competition because I didn’t know how [other coaches and the wrestling community would] react, and I know how wrestlers are in relation to the wearing of the singlet. I knew my daughters were coming in with a head covering, I knew it wouldn’t go well,” says Mustafa. “But at the behest of local coaches who saw my daughters wrestling against each other, they pressed me and encouraged me to seek permission and compete.”
He first took his daughters to compete in Canada at Brock University, which has a premiere wrestling program. The coaches there had seen his girls wrestle and knew they had talent. “We began to compete there in a few competitions, but it worked because we knew a coach on the inside [who helped facilitate the modest dress uniform],” says Mustafa. In the U.S., one coach friend pushed Mustafa to let daughters compete at a competition held at Niagara Community College, and because it was a tournament he was organizing, he didn’t object to the full-coverage uniform and hijab Latifah and her sisters were wearing.
“At that point it became pretty real,” says Mustafa. “So I reached out to USA Wrestling, and we went through a back-and-forth about being permitted to wrestle. The model that we were presenting was a model that was instituted by Iranian wrestling women and how they dress.
“[USA Wrestling] said if you can guarantee that your daughters will dress like the women do in Iran, you can wrestle. Then that was the first time we went to the U.S. Nationals competition in 2021. All of my daughters placed in the top five – The oldest one was in U23 division. Latifah double placed in U20 and U17 division, and my youngest one placed All American at the U15s.”
This year in Texas, Latifah took second in the U20 division and 4th in the U23 division for 72 kg weight class. Her sister Zayna placed third in U17 division in the 61 kg category, and her other sister Jamilah placed in the U23 category, 65 kg weight class. Latifah’s second place finish earned her spot to the Pan-American championships, which has now been stripped from her.
“My father raised me to be a woman of substance who aims high, not a woman of figure. It gives me the opportunity to be judged purely on my intellect, skill and ability,” says Latifah. “When I step on the mat during practice, no one cares what God I worship or how I am dressed. They only care about whether or not I perform.
“I never thought it would be possible that I could wrestle on the national level, let alone on stage in front of hundreds of people until USA Wrestling gave me and my sisters an opportunity that turned our dreams and aspirations into reality,” Latifah says. “This May I earned my spot on the national team … to represent USA Wrestling in the Pan Am games. Until [UWW] denied me the opportunity they denied me to dress modestly at the Pan Ams, not only that but in any future UWW-sanctioned event despite proving that we can wrestle modestly time and time again.”
Latifah stands on the podium at the NYS Girls Folkstyle Championships in May of 2022.
This banning was exactly what her father Mustafa had feared when he began entering Latifah and her sisters in competition. “I’m really concerned that this may have a backlash against us in preventing us from participating in further United States wrestling events. If we go to [a U.S. national competition] next year and they know we’re not going to be able to go further [because of their full-coverage wrestling uniform and hijab], that may turn against us - that we’re taking the spot of another wrestler in the bracket [who can go on to compete internationally on behalf of the United States].”
While worried about the wrestling future for his daughters, Mustafa and the McBryde family are also appreciative for the support they've received from a number of people in their wrestling community – coaches, referees, fellow wrestlers, parents and even random strangers, who have offered encouragement. To have this support as they continue to ask UWW to reconsider its decision has been really nice, says Mustafa.
The pushback against religious-based head covering and uniform bans or waiver requirements in athletics (and other areas of life) has belonged to the athletes and women (and men) fighting it on basketball courts, wrestling rings, soccer pitches, cross country running tracks, boxing rings, gyms, volleyball courts and more across the country and globally. From basketball player Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir to wrestler Latifah McBryde to high school volleyball player Najah Aqeel, to cross country runner Noor Alexandria Abukaram, the message is clear: You can’t ban us. We should be able to play and respect our religion.
We’ve been following and reporting on these stories for years, but the development of Haute Hijab Sport, which included hours of interviews and discussions with Muslim women athletes and fitness lovers, helped us realize how important it was for us as a company to provide support from behind the scenes to these fierce, strong women fighting these fights to wear their hijabs and full-coverage uniforms and play sports.
Thus was born our ongoing #CantBanUs campaign, in which we are working with athletes, athletic associations and organizations to educate about hijab and supporting women to push back against rules that require waivers for religious head coverings or outright bans them.
Help us in supporting Latifah in her fight to wrestle internationally. Sign this change.org petition urging UWW to let Latifah wrestler and amplify her story across your social media networks with the hashtag #LetLatifahWrestle and #CantBanUs. Be sure to tag United World Wrestling (@unitedworldwresting) and USA Wrestling (@usawrestling) when sharing Latifah's story. Together we can, Insha’Allah, change things.
Have a #CantBanUs story to share with us? Submit it here.
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