Two Saudi Women to compete in the Olympics
Finally Saudi Arabia has actually announced the names of two female athletes who will join their Olympic team in London and finally join Qatar and Brunei in ending their male only teams at this years Olympics. For some weeks there has been a lot of talk about allowing Saudi women to compete in the Olympics but until now no concrete action.
Recent calls to ban the Saudi team from attending if they failed to include women within the team seem to have hit the mark with Saudi Arabia finally announcing the move to include two female athletes.
Even the two athletes selected to compete under the Saudi flag — 800m runner Sarah Attar from Pepperdine University in California and Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdul Rahim Shahrkhani in judo — live outside the kingdom and carry almost no influence as sports figures. There is no other choice: Women sports remain nearly an underground activity in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabian Coverage of this Decision.
Everyone from “Marie Claire” to “Bloomberg” is reporting the story, but let us have a look at the coverage within the kingdom itself;
OH! There is no coverage that I can see within the kingdom!
This earth shattering and momentous occasion has not made it into any Saudi mainstream newspaper or officially sanctioned website or news report. Or maybe I am just too soon off the mark after all the Saudis are not the quickest off the mark with anything. But just about every other newspaper and interested party around the globe has managed to pick up the story.
While it may be news outside the kingdom, the powers that be obviously fear that allowing it to be publicized within the kingdom may be just too much for the more delicate members of their society. No I don’t mean the women I mean the ruling clerics, many of whom I am sure will be incensed by this move “against Islam!” Reforms within the kingdom are very much a strained process between the ruling clerics and the current ruling family who are sensing the need to change for the growing much younger population.
Where are the “Saudi Women” in the Saudi team?
Neither of the women nominated actually live within the kingdom, after all if they did they would never have ever had the opportunity to take part in any sporting events. Women are just not allowed at all to compete in sports anywhere in the kingdom. What sports do happen are practiced in secret in fear of the Mutawa (religious police.) I wish both of these women the very best of success in their respective events and I hope that they surprise the world with their performance.
Saudi Sports Women Fear a Backlash
Those that do practice sports such as the Jeddah women’s football team now fear a backlash and expect that there will be a clamp down on their activities within the country in revenge for allowing women to compete in the Olympics.
They currently have no choice but to practice in secret away from public gaze, there are no facilities for women of any type within the kingdom that women can use for sport. What facilities there are for fitness are attached to hospitals as part of “treatment”, otherwise they would be illegal. Many of these “hospital gyms” offer swimming classes for women and girls as well as some other minor facilities; a couple of the owners that I know however now fear that they may be subjected to more rigorous inspections and possible problems.
This is however you look at it a step forward and I hope that before the next Olympics in 2016 the Saudi Government will be able to step up the pace of change so that we can see Saudi female athletes competing who actually live and compete within the country.