I am not sure if I actually believe the announcement made today that Saudi women are to compete in the London Olympics.Until now everything has been very clear that women will not be allowed to compete, after all they are not allowed to compete in team games in Saudi and there is no provision made for any form of sport within any Saudi girls school. Some clerics believe that competing in sports will make young girls unfit for later marriage and as such is haram (forbidden!)
The women in the kingdom have been campaigning for many rights over the previous few years such as women driving and getting the vote, but this is probably the least expected step forward as it was ruled out back in April by the late prince Nayef. His position as the crown prince had allowed the mutawa (religious police) a resurgence of power within some areas of Saudi Arabia as he had many links with the various religious leaders.
Update; Still No Women!
Its now the second week of July and there are still no women members for the Saudi Olympic team, the “if they qualify” proviso seems to be holding back any participation which I am sure will be great news for many of the men in the kingdom who just don’t want to see any move to allow women to do anything other than wash dishes and have children (most have maids however for the dishes!)
There are now calls for the IOC to Ban the Saudi Arabian olympic team unless they include women in their team, after all the Saudi team currently will be the only country who will not have any women in their team. The IOC took steps before and banned South Africa in 1964 over their failure to include any blacks in their team, this sexual discrimination should not be treated any differently people are arguing.
Women who participate in “underground” sports in the kingdom are also afraid that this could cause them problems after the games as they fear that the clerics will want to see the various football clubs and other sports training that women have organized for themselves closed down. They also fear that sending untrained unprepared women to the Olympics will also cause problems as it will give those who oppose women competing the added ammunition that the women embarrassed the country by doing so poorly.
Saudi Women Competing in the Olympics
“The kingdom of Saudi Arabia is looking forward to full participation” in the Olympic Games. “The Saudi Olympic Committee will oversee participation of female competitors who qualify,” the Saudi embassy in London said.
Who will compete in the Olympics?
There is likely to be only one female competitor for the London Olympics from Saudi Arabia; Dalma Rushdi Malhas the show jumper who competed in the 2010 junior Olympics as an individual rather than as a Saudi national. She is likely to join the team in London as Saudi Arabia’s very first official female competitor in any sporting event anywhere in the world.
Can Saudi Women go to a football match?
Because of the rules regarding segregation of the sexes women in Saudi Arabia are not even allowed to go to watch a football match, stadiums forbid the entry of women. Saudis are very passionate about their football and many of the Saudi women that I know follow their team also, but they are not allowed to actually see them play live.
Saudi Women and Exercise
There are no gyms for women within the kingdom unless they are attached to a hospital as part of the therapy offered. Separate ladies gyms are illegal so you will only see gyms for men within the kingdom.
Therefore women find that there is a major shortage of places in which to stay or get fit, many will resort to walking in groups around some of the city blocks in the early evening to get some exercise clad in their Abayas looking like a flock of giant penguins waddling along the edge of the road
If they want to swim on the public beach they can do, but again they are clad in their Abayas and Islamic swimsuits to ensure everything is covered up. Some of the private beaches are a little more open, only (supposedly) opened to families some have women bathing openly in bikinis in much the same way as they would in the west; even Saudi women which to me was quite a shock to discover. However in the last year of so some of these beaches around Jeddah have had problems with the Mutawa regarding what is allowed within their premises. It will be interesting to see how things change again with the new crown prince.
The allowing of women to compete (even if only one is likely to qualify) is a huge step forward and has to signal a possibility of other concessions being made in the kingdom. Maybe we are a little closer to seeing women being allowed to drive in Saudi and have a greater control over their lives.