Saudi Women Athletes May Compete in the Olympics
Saudi Arabia earlier this week released a breakthrough statement announcing that the kingdom would, for the first time, allow ‘women athletes who can qualify for the games’ to compete in the Olympics, hosted by London this summer. The announcement came amidst growing pressure from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and human rights groups. The IOC had earlier threatened to ban the country from participating in the Olympics because of its discriminatory treatment of women in sport.
Sport, at least in public, is out of bounds for women in Saudi Arabia. Physical education is not taught in state schools for girls, and women who want to participate in sport must do so in secret. Last March, 300 women played basketball games at an enclosed court to celebrate International Women’s Day. There were also a few incidents, most recently in 2009 and 2010, where Saudi authorities closed down private gyms for women.
Apart from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei are the only other countries in the world that have yet to send female athletes to the Olympics. They have, however, stated that they are planning to include female athletes in their competing teams to the London Games this year, which will run from July 27 to August 12.
But the announcement from the Saudi Arabian embassy in London does not automatically mean that fans and supporters will see female athletes from the oil-rich country competing this summer in London . The one female athlete widely expected to be the first to compete in the Olympics, 20-year-old equestrian Dalma Rushdi Malhas, joined the 2010 Singapore Youth Olympics without the formal nomination of her country, winning a bronze medal in the process. Dalma, however, has been blocked by the International Equestrian Federation to compete in this year’s games after she missed the qualifying period deadline due to an injury to her horse.
This has prompted some critics to accuse the Saudi government of being disingenuous in its decision – granting its female athletes the right to compete only after it became apparent that none were likely to qualify.
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