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Another Olympics sans Saudi women?

Tue, Jun 12, 2012

While athletes around the world enter their final stages of training for the 30th Olympic Games in London this July, Saudi Arabia stands alone as the only country that has banned females from participating.

Qatar and Brunei, who previously banned women from the international event for cultural and religious reasons, will send female athletes for the first time.

But Saudi Arabia has never nominated a woman to participate in the Olympic Games, a ban that stems from strict government policy denying women and girls’ right to practice sports, with conservative religious clerics fearing that it could lead them on a “path of immorality.”

A Human Rights Watch report released in February called on Saudi Arabia to protect women’s equal right to sports and urged the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to live up to its charter, which prohibits discrimination, or face a ban similar to that imposed on Afghanistan in 1999 partly for its exclusion of female athletes.

Christoph Wilcke, author of Steps Of The Devil and senior Middle East researcher for Human Rights Watch, said it was time for the IOC to act on its membership rules.

“Saudi Arabia is violating the rules but the question is whether a ban will help or make things worse,” Wilcke, who is
based in Munich, told IPS.

“The jury is out on that. I think two months before the start of the games would be the ideal time for the IOC to enforce their rules. Saudi Arabia clearly wants to participate by sending a maleonly team. But their violations of the rules are coming at no price at all.”

Prince Nawwaf bin Faisal, Saudi Olympic Committee president, announced last November that only a men’s team would participate at the Games. He did not rule out the possibility of women competing but said it would only be by invitation from outside bodies.

He added that women would have to be in the appropriate dress according to Islamic precepts, be in the presence of a male guardian and perform a sport so that no part of her was visible, thereby not violating Islamic sharia law.

Women have the opportunity to play sports in all Muslim and Arab countries with support from their governments and national sporting authorities – except in Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi National Olympic Committee and the country’s 29 national sports federations offer no women’s sections or competitions for aspiring female athletes.

Written by: Sandra Siagian
International Press Service


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