Saudi Arabia will not be sending any female athletes to compete in the upcoming summer Olympics in London. The ultraconservative kingdom follows a strict Wahabi interpration of Sunni Islam that prevents women from driving, traveling on their own or seeking certain medical procedures without a male relative’s approval.
Saudi Arabia is now one of the very last countries to resist the International Olympic Committee (IOC)’s requirement to have female athletes on its team or risk being banned from the games. According to Agence France-Press (via Raw Story), Qatar and Brunei have also never sent female athletes to the Olympics; they and Saudi Arabia have been criticized by Anita DeFrantz, the president of the IOC’s Women and Sport Committee. Qatar, which is seeking to host the 2020 Olympics, has said that it will be sending female athletes to the London Olympics.
Prince Nawaf bin Faisal has said that Saudi women who wish to enter the Olympics on their own may do so and that his country’s Olympic authority will “only help in ensuring that their participation does not violate the Islamic sharia law.” The Saudi government currently forbids women from participating in sports in state-run schools and the country has no groups that organize athletic opportunities for women. Prince Faisal does claims that ”Hundreds, if not thousands, of (Saudi) women who practice sports, but in private.”
18-year-old Dalma Rushdi Malhas, who lives aboard, won a bronze medal in the 2010 Singapore Youth Olympics, without Saudi Arabia itself nominating her. She will be the only female athlete on Saudi Arabia’s Olympic team. Notably, she is competing in an event that should be far less controversial to conservatives as riders compete fully clothed, only exposing their hands and faces.
A February report issued by the New York-based Human Rights Watch has condemned the “systematic exclusion of women from sporting activities in Saudi Arabia.” A report issued late last year by Amnesty International went so far as to describe a “new wave of repression” in Saudi Arabia at the same time as pro-democracy uprisings were occurring in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Syria and Bahrain.
The Saudis sent troops to Bahrain in March of 2011 to suppress anti-government protesters. In contrast, along with Qatar, the Saudis have called for arming rebel fighters in Syria and are reportedly paying them. Saudi Arabia’s refusal to include female athletes on its Olympic team while saying that there are “hundreds, ir not thousands” of Saudi women practicing sports “in private” reveals a similar contradiction. If women can compete in sports in Saudi Arabia, why not include them on the country’s Olympic team?
Since Saudi Arabia is not sending any female athletes to the London Olympics, should the IOC ban the country from competition?
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Photo by Roberto Trm