August 19, 2008

An Olympic Door Opens for Saudi Woman

An Olympic Door Opens for Saudi Woman
By Faiza Saleh Ambah
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, August 18, 2008; Page A06

JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia -- The first female member of a Saudi Olympic delegation is spending her days with the equestrian team in Hong Kong, checking on horses, encouraging riders, planning training schedules and meeting with officials.

Arwa Mutabagani, 38, a professional show jumper, became a member of the Saudi Olympic Committee after her appointment in April to the government body in charge of sports in Saudi Arabia, another first for a woman.

Saudi Arabia has long been criticized for being one of a few countries that ban female athletes at the Olympics, but Mutabagani said her role is a sign that Saudi Arabia is trying to open the way for women in sports.

"The door has been opened. I want to work hard and prove I'm not just a token woman or figurehead," she said.

Some female activists say the government is not moving fast enough.

"We have been asking for years via the media and academics and education experts and officials to be allowed the right to practice sports," said Manal al-Sharif, head of the women's section of al-Madina newspaper. "There is nothing in the religion that bans this. It's only our tradition and culture that are driving this ban until now."

(Picture) - Arwa Mutabagani, with Saudi rider Faisal al-Shaalan in Hong Kong, is the first woman in a Saudi Olympic delegation. (Courtesy Of Arwa Mutabagani)

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