Gaza: Hamas vetoes women at marathon, UN cancels

'They can't run with men'. Pescante, huge step backwards

06 March, 10:42

Palestinian women competed in the past editions of the international marathon in Gaza Palestinian women competed in the past editions of the international marathon in Gaza

(ANSAmed) - ROME - Hamas has forced the UN to cancel the third international marathon which was scheduled to take place on April 10 in the Gaza Strip on the grounds that 'men and women cannot run together'. The announcement was made in a statement by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) which was organizing the race. The agency said 807 adults had already subscribed to participate in the marathon - along with 1,500 students - including 385 women, 266 from the Gaza Strip, a record number for an annual event aimed at showing solidarity to Palestinians and raising funds for UN camps hosting at least 250,000 children, said the agency's spokesperson Adnane Abu Hasna.

'This is a bad day for sport', said Mario Pescante the 'foreign minister' of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Fiona May, a former Italian champion, also expressed dismay: 'The UN did the right thing in cancelling the international marathon in Gaza after Hamas' refusal to make women participate', she said. 'Sports, and marathons in particular, are an occasion to unite and not divide. I really don't understand why women should not take part in this event. Hamas' decision goes against the spirit of sport'.

UNWRA explained that the 'disappointing decision was taken after talks with Gaza's authorities who were insisting against the participation of women' in the marathon, a condition set by Hamas a few days ago. 'We negotiated for a long time but failed', said Abu Hasna. 'We did not ask UNWRA to cancel the marathon and we did not ban it. We only set some conditions: we don't want men and women to run together', Abdessalam Siyam, secretary general of the Hamas government, told AFP. He cited Islamic law and tradition but did not explain why a similar ban had not been imposed in previous marathons.

In the previous editions women were allowed to compete although foreign athletes had to wear long sportswear while hundreds of Palestinian participated with their head covered and ample garments.

This year Hamas banned women over 16 from the marathon because they have to be separated from men. But youths are very disappointed. 'Why should women be banned from the marathon? They know very well that girls swim beside men when they go to the beach, what is the difference?' asked Noura Boulboul, 13.

Aymane Abdallah, a 16-year-old boy who competed in the 2012 edition, said he was sorry the marathon was cancelled as it represented 'the expression of freedom and shows that in Gaza we are a civil population'.

Hamas' decision goes against what is currently going on in sports. 'At the London 2012 Olympics all Arab countries had at least a woman on their team', said Pescante. 'And I have just received a request from the Palestinians for a friendly match between their women's national football team and Italy'.

The Gaza issue 'will be discussed at length at the next international affairs meeting of the IOC which I chair, scheduled in May', said Pescante. 'This grave episode will certainly be analyzed at a forum to be held at the UN with secretary general Ban Ki Moon'.(ANSAmed).

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