London 2012: women or no women? Dilemma for Saudi Arabia

Strong pressure on Kingdom who never sent female athletes

19 March, 19:43

    Saudi basketball female athletes Saudi basketball female athletes

    (ANSAmed) - Rome, 19 March - Women or no women? This is the dilemma that Saudi Arabia has been facing for months ahead of the London Olympics. Time is now short. The Wahhabi kingdom will have to decide whether to send women for the first time in its history to the games. The President of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge, has expressed hope: "We are still discussing the details with them, but I'm optimistic that it can happen,'' he said. It would be an epochal change for a country where women can not even drive a car or go to gyms.

    Until recently, such a prospect would not even have been considered by the oil sheiks who follow an ultra-conservative interpretation of Islamic law. In fact, at the Beijing games in 2008, as in all previous editions, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the small sultanate of Brunei were the only states not to send even a single female athlete.

    However, the atmosphere has changed after the Arab spring and the great upheavals in North Africa and the Middle East.

    Stronger pressure has come from the IOC, as well as public opinion, for Ryadh to end its embarrassing and anachronistic veto, which apart from anything is not in the inclusive and anti-discriminatory spirit of the games. Qatar has already announced that it will send two female representatives to London. Ryadh at first agreed, but then reneged on the decision, indicating a harsh struggle that is taking place within the realm between liberals and the powerful Wahhabis.

    Among other things, given the strong limitations to women's participatin in sport, Saudi Arabia could not even find athletes to meet the standards and the Olympic qualifiers. In that case, however, the IOC may offer special invitations or find other solutions.

    Last month, the international organisation, Human Rights Watch, asked the IOC to take a hard line against Saudi Arabia when it was again refusing to send female representatives to the Games.

    The presence of women - said HRW - must be a condition for participating in the London games. However, it is unlikely that the international sports community would adopt such measures against the world's leading producer and exporter. (ANSAmed).

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