Taekwondo star Aliyah Shipman, who is Muslim and Haitian-American, has long dreamed of representing Haiti in the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. However, the 18-year-old claims those aspirations are now being stifled by the United States Olympic Committee, which questioned her eligibility and background.
WRLN reported the Florida-based athlete and her family has since taken legal action against the U.S. Olympic bodies for the matter Shipman described as “a nightmare” and “one of the worse things I had to ever go through.” She continued, “The happiest day of my life is when I qualified for the Olympics, so just having it taken away from me, it’s so much for me.”
Shipman says she has been competing with the Haitian team since 2019 and won several medals from the Haitian Taekwondo Federation. She also represented the country in the event that was organized by the U.S. Taekwondo Federation — another organization she claims is attempting to disqualify her from the upcoming Games. The Plantation, Florida, native is currently the only person that has qualified to represent Haiti in the upcoming Games.
“Since October of 2019, I have been fighting and medaling for the Haitian Taekwondo Federation in competitions such as the U.S. Open, the Turkish Open, and the Pan-American Olympic Qualification Tournament,” an online petition for the welterweight fighter read. “During that time, the United States Taekwondo Federation (USAT) and the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) never made any objections to me fighting for Haiti.”
When Shipman was 16, she competed for Team USA at the Pan Am Junior Championship, one year before she qualified for Team Haiti. While she maintains that she was never notified of any potential violations, the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Taekwondo claim that Shipman violated eligibility rules when she switched national teams.
Shipman’s mom, Zahra Shipman, denies that contention, telling WRLN that her daughter violated neither age nor competition rules. “There’s a rule in the World Taekwondo rule books that specifies that if an athlete has competed in certain events for one country, they cannot compete in the Olympics for another country for three years,” she explained. She further stated that those rules only applied to athletes 17 or older — her daughter was 16 when she competed for the U.S.
The family’s attorney, Michael Dockterman, argues that the Haitian Olympic Committee, which the U.S. Olympic Committee supports, could have quickly remedied the issue, which he says has come up previously.
“They have taken different positions with respect to different athletes. The rule that they cite has an exception that they ask to be put in in 2015 to their benefit. Aliyah only competed as a junior under U.S. auspices, never as a senior, never in any of the listed tournaments,” Dockterman said in a statement to the outlet. “So why they would apply a double standard to her is a complete mystery.”
Neither of the national Olympic bodies have has publicly addressed the case. However, Shipman told the outlet that if she cannot participate in Tokyo, she will try again in the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.
The recent events, including the banning of swim caps for natural-haired athletes and other controversial incidents, have also been a cause for concern for the Shipman family. “Different decisions being made, banning swimming caps that are for larger hairstyles,” Shipman’s mother said. “It’s really unfortunate that they appear to be just racist towards biracial [women] or women of color.”
The teen added, “It’s so wrong because I’m an 18-year-old. I’m so young, and I worked so hard to get this spot. I just think nothing like this should happen ever again.” Shipman is currently waiting for a hearing from the Court of Arbitration for Sport, but time is running out, as the games are set to start Friday, July 23.