Contemporary and Social Issues

Tokyo Olympics 2020 – Female German Gymnasts Cover Up and Reveal a Lot


Munavara Ghauri, UK

The Tokyo 2020 Olympics is a first in more ways than one. Tokyo is now the first city in Asia to host the summer games of this iconic event twice. It is now the first city to be hosting the Olympics behind closed doors due to a global pandemic. Alas, the stadium’s 50,000 seats will remain empty however breathtaking the athleticism in the stadium they surround. It is also the first time that this celebration of human endeavour, inspired by the Ancient Greeks, has been postponed (to 2021), rather than cancelled. [1] 

As a Muslim woman, there is another first that has sparked my interest. That is the choice of the German women’s gymnastics team to wear full-body suits in the qualification round as a stand against sexualisation, according to The German Federation. [2] One of the competitors, Sarah Voss, said she wished to be, ‘a role model for young gymnasts who don’t feel safe in every situation.’ [3] Usually, any competitors covering their legs at international level have only done so on religious grounds. This year, the German team felt it was important that their body suits were a reflection ‘about what feels comfortable’ for female competitors. [4] The German team wanted to help young female gymnasts feel emboldened to wear what is comfortable rather than conventional, and in turn help to prevent sexual abuse in the sporting world. [5] Their statement comes soon after the Norwegian women’s beach volleyball team refused to play in bikini bottoms during the European tournaments, opting for shorts instead and incurring a fine for violation of a wardrobe requirement. [6] It has also inspired other female athletes like Danusia Francis, representing Jamaica at Tokyo 2020, to consider wearing a full-length leotard. Francis admitted that, ‘Female outfits in sport aren’t actually designed to help us in any way. Its kind of just to parade our…femininity.’ [7]  

Arguably, the Muslim woman’s practice of purdah/hijab (wearing a head-covering and loose, outer clothing) is for the same reasons of feeling safe, comfortable and emboldened, without the fear of sexualization as expressed by Voss, and so that a woman’s ‘femininity’ is not on ‘parade’ as acknowledged by Francis. Purdah, that many perceive as a sign of oppression in Islam, is in fact the opposite – a means of liberation and a stand against sexual objectification. Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad (ra), the Second Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, argued in his treatise ‘Muhammad, The Liberator of Women’ that before Islam,

Women in all countries were bound to enslavement and servitude’ and that ‘…from time immemorial there were women, who on account of their beauty or outstanding quality, have ruled over some men, but this was not true freedom as it was not theirs by right but were exceptions.’ [8]

He concluded that it was Islamic teaching that actually liberated women from the shackles of suppression and subordination across continents and cultures. This happened in 6th century Arabia, long before the writings of early feminists such as Mary Wollstonecraft and Margaret Fuller began to challenge the ideas of 19th century men in the Western world. Islamic teachings gave women the right to an education, to inherit, to marry whom they chose and to divorce. Islam also reminded men of the fundamental equality of the sexes as Allah Almighty declared in the Holy Qur’an that He had created mankind ‘from a male and a female.’ [9] Furthermore, Allah Almighty stated ‘…the most honourable among you in the sight of Allah, is he who is the most righteous among you.’ [10] Thus, the ultimate origin of men and women was the same according to Islam and any superiority was based upon character rather than gender.

 It is interesting that when 12 centuries later, Mary Wollstonecraft began campaigning for the rights of women to an education in England, she exposed how the middle-classes were still fixated upon the dress and appearance of women and their utilisation as a means to attract eligible husbands. Wollstonecraft resented this immensely and thus echoed the values that Islam taught when she said:

The beauty of dress (I shall raise astonishment by saying so), is it not being conspicuous one way or the other.’ [11] 

She realised that the value of a woman was diminished when society dictated that it evolved around her appearance as she reflected, ‘Things merely ornamental are soon disregarded.’ [12]

Wollstonecraft argued that there were far more valuable qualities to be nurtured in young women than beauty, such as humility, charity and education. She observed, ‘By far too much of a girl’s time is taken up in dress. This is an exterior accomplishment.’ [13]  

In some ways it seems there has been little progress in society when 300 years later, immensely talented women fit to perform at the Olympics, are still having to waste time on this ‘exterior accomplishment.’ [14] Female athletes should not have to explain donning a more modest form of clothing to maintain their personal protection. As the gymnast Voss admitted, she had become ‘increasingly uncomfortable’ in tight gym outfits once she reached puberty. [15]

1400 years ago, the Holy Qur’an had already made it clear to a patriarchal and male-dominated society that men should not expect women to dress for male pleasure, but that the social norm should be for women to wear modest attire, so that they do not have to worry about being molested [16] or drawing unwanted attention to themselves. In Chapter 24 of the Holy Qur’an, both men and women are advised to ‘guide their private parts’, and be modest in dealing with the opposite gender, so that they regarded each other as human beings rather than as objects. Furthermore, this divine book also taught mankind that Allah Almighty had blessed humans with clothes to enhance and beautify them:

‘O children of Adam, We have indeed sent down to you raiment to cover your nakedness and be a means of adornment:’ [17]  

The verse continued to reveal a fundamental teaching in Islam; ‘…but the raiment of righteousness – that is the best.’ This clause teaches a Muslim so much despite its unassuming brevity. It highlights that virtue is paramount in a person beyond the material trappings of this world. Neither clothes by Gucci, nor Prada, nor Versace, will bear any relevance before our Creator – Allah Almighty. Only our virtuous qualities truly beautify and protect us. Furthermore, modest clothes which in turn promote chastity and virtue in others, by not posing as unnecessary distractions, are deemed the best. The Holy Prophet(sa) of Islam taught all his followers to:

Put on your garments and do not issue forth uncovered.’ [18] 

So, in my eyes, the long leotards – unitards – the German gymnasts are currently wearing at the Olympics, makes them the real champions of Tokyo 2020.    

About the Author: Munavara Ghauri BA (Hons) Eng Lit, is married with 3 children and works as a School Librarian. She is currently serving as the Branch Leader for the Bournemouth Women’s Auxiliary Organization of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and is an Editor for the Women’s Section of The Review of Religions.


[1] ‘Olympics history: Have the Games been postponed before?’ Los Angeles Times, 24 March, 2020


[3] Sarah Voss: German hopes full-body suits make young gymnasts feel safe – BBC Sport




[7] Tokyo Olympics: German gymnasts’ full-body suits inspire other athletes – BBC News

[8], p2

[9] Holy Qur’an, Ch49-V14

[10] ibid

[11] Thoughts on the Education of Daughters, p36,, the section titled ‘Dress’

[12] Ibid, p34, the section titled ‘Artificial Manners’

[13] Ibid, p35, the section titled ‘Dress’

[14] Ibid


[16] Holy Qur’an, Ch33-V60

[17] Holy Qur’an, Ch7-V27

[18] Muhammad Zafrullah Khan, Wisdom of the Holy Prophet, Unwin Brothers Ltd, 1981, p38