February 27, 2012

Yes for sports, let her play

Arab news

Yes for sports, let her play

By: Abdullah Al Alami

Saudi women are shut out of playing sports and there are little or no efforts to allow girls and women to compete in international tournaments. Actually, we managed to prohibit physical education for girls in schools and some may even argue that women playing sports violate our norms and traditions.

When the modern Games were founded in 1896, women were barred from competing as it was thought their inclusion would be “impractical, uninteresting, unaesthetic, and incorrect.” Although Saudi laws are derived from Islamic laws, there is nothing in the Qur’an or Sunnah that bans women from participating in sports. Some Saudi clerics warn that sports could lead to women wearing immodest clothing and spending too much time away from their homes. I believe the reason is holding back freedom of movement to women, and as such; Saudi women have to bear the brunt of our deeply conservative norms and traditions.

There are no national teams for women and the few women who play sports are limited to exercising at home or at expensive fitness centers. I hope this is not part of the “male guardianship system” that treats women as minors in most aspects of life. Just like some Saudi men, there are some Saudi women who are talented sportswomen and fanatical about sports.

To add insult to injury, just like whenever we attempt to catch something that’s falling off the table we always manage to knock something else over. Whenever we manage to allow women some freedom, we manage to put another obstacle in the process. It’s enough hardship that women must obtain permission from a guardian to work, study, marry, travel or access health care. Let’s not make their lives more of a burden.

The good news is that a female Saudi equestrian, Dalma Malhas, earned a bronze medal in the 2010 Singapore Youth Olympic Games. Nevertheless, she did not receive Saudi sponsorship. As I recall, in 2008, seven female teams played in the first ever national tournament as part of a segregated women’s league.

Somewhere behind high concrete walls and out of sight of men, Saudi women meet few times a week to play soccer in an all-female club in Jeddah. In addition, Lina Almaeena, a basketball player established a team in Jeddah in 2003 including 16 women.

We need to end discrimination against women in sports and give them the right to represent the country in Olympic events. It is enough that women are prohibited from driving, applying for a job, travel or study without the permission of a male guardian. Please remember that all other Muslim countries, including Iran, Indonesia, Algeria and Bahrain, have sent female athletes to the Olympics. There is no excuse for us not to take this healthy and basic step to include and support women in athletics.

In addition to the discrimination factor, there are serious health issues as well. Please note that obesity and diabetes rates have risen among Saudi women and girls. Sports and exercise are part of a larger effort to advance women’s autonomy and well-being.

Women’s rights are becoming a more prominent national issue. I still remember Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah’s speech on Sept. 25, 2011 at the Shoura Council rejecting the marginalization of women in Saudi society. The king granted women the right to vote in municipal councils and become full members in the Shoura Council.

The International Olympic Committee, whose charter denounces any discrimination, has previously urged Saudi Arabia to end discrimination against women in sports. The IOC charter states that sports are a right for everyone and bans discrimination in practicing sports on the basis of gender.

Tweet: Sport is a human right; women should not be left on the sidelines.

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