KUALA LUMPUR - The furore over Malaysian gymnast Farah Ann Abdul Hadi's attire at the Singapore SEA Games rages on, with Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin telling athletes they do not have to abide by any dress code drawn up by the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim).
On Monday, Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom had said that sports attire would be reviewed.
Mr Jamil, who is in charge of Islamic Affairs, said Jakim would review clothing guidelines for athletes to be more syariah-compliant.
Mr Khairy said Jakim's guidelines were "just a guideline and there's no compulsion to it".
"It's up to the athletes to follow the guidelines and there's no compulsion to cover up... I hope this settles it.
"We have to remember some sports attires are regulated by the sports federations... besides, the athletes only wear the attire during competitions, they don't wear it every day," said Mr Khairy on Tuesday.
He also slammed the critics as hypocrites and said the issue smacked of sexism.
Artistic gymnast Farah Ann made Malaysia proud by winning two gold medals, a silver and three bronzes in the biennial Games, but received flak from some for "exposing her body".
Last week, some critics in the majority Muslim country slammed the 21-year-old, saying they could see the shape of her "aurat (genitalia)" in her leotard.
"Farah is an adult and has been brought up well. She knows what she's doing and old enough to decide for herself," Mr Khairy said.
"Male athletes don't get this kind of attention, body-builders wear much more revealing trunks. The critics can look elsewhere... or, if they cannot contain themselves, we will have to ban them from entering stadiums."
Thousands of people have shown their support for Farah Ann. By Wednesday, over 17,000 people had "liked" the Facebook page "Farah Ann Abdul Hadi For Malaysia", which calls for "praise and support" for the double gold-medallist.
Farah Ann wrote on the page: "I would just like to express my sincerest gratitude to all of you who have been supporting me.
"It is such an overwhelming feeling to have had such a great and positive response from all of you."
Malaysian Gymnastics Federation secretary N. Shanmugarajah said: "The leotards our gymnasts wear are FIG (International Federation of Gymnastics)-approved and you have to wear them if you want to compete."
However, divisions remain and one Malaysian Islamic group reportedly called for guidelines to help female Muslim athletes stay syariah law-compliant when they compete.
"Women should not be stopped from sports, but they must prioritise the Islamic codes in sports attire," said Ms Roszida Kamaruddin, head of the female wing of the National Muslim Youth Association, according to the Malay Mail.
"Furthermore, there are many Muslim female athletes who succeed even by covering their aurat."
THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE