Saudi women still out of favour
Noor al-Malki will be the first female athlete to represent Qatar in the Olympic Games. That leaves Saudi Arabia as the only country that stops women taking part in any sporting event.Updated: Jun 02, 2012, 23:58 IST
Noor al-Malki will be the first female athlete to represent Qatar in the Olympic Games. That leaves Saudi Arabia as the only country that stops women taking part in any sporting event.
Noor's selection is part of a concerted effort by the Qatari authorities to prove to the IOC that after years of discrimination they are now willing and able to increase women's sport in their own country and across the Middle East.
Qatar is also sending a swimmer, Nada Arkaji, 17, and a rifle shooter, Bahia al-Hamad, 19. None of them really deserve a place on merit. But their presence will help London 2012 become the first Olympics in which the split between male and female athletes is 50/50.
Only 42% of Olympians in Beijing in 2008 were women. Of 204 countries and territories represented, three did not send women on religious and cultural grounds: Qatar, Brunei and Saudi Arabia. Brunei's Olympic committee has confirmed a 400m hurdler, Maziah Mahusin, as part of its 2012 team.
That leaves Saudi Arabia, which is refusing to follow suit. Prince Nawaf Faisal, head of the Saudi Olympic committee, bluntly said: “At present, we are not embracing any female Saudi participation in the Olympics or other championships.”
Bizarrely, the Saudi position seemed to be that women were free to compete in London, but would not receive endorsement or support from their national governing body. It was a gesture towards equality, only with the caveat that anyone who took advantage of it could expect severe discrimination.
Today, Saudi Arabia stands alone. Here, women's sport is entirely banned. Girls do not do PE at school, and there are no state programmes supporting competitive female sports.
However, some Saudi women play in underground leagues. Reema Abdullah, who founded Saudi Arabia’s first female football club in 2006, said, “Nobody is saying completely ‘no’ to us. As long as there are no men around and our clothes are properly Islamic, there should be no problem."
Effect on Qatar bid “We were not happy when the Saudis said that they would not send women athletes,” said Noora al-Mannai, the chief executive of Qatar's Olympic bid committee. Mannai believes Qatar can help foster change across the border in Saudi Arabia.
“If Qatar does it, it will be easier for others.”