Saudi Arabia will not be sending women to the Olympics as was first announced. In 1964, South Africa was banned from participating in the Olympics because of the country’s racial discrimination policies. Including black athletes was not enough back then, the IOC expected South Africa to publicly renounce “racial discrimination in sport and opposed the ban in its own country on competition between white and black athletes.” The ban would last 28 years until 1992.
It is offensive to all women that the IOC would not extend a ban to Saudi Arabia for denying women their right to participate as they did to South Africa. Below is a post I published on December 21, 2010. It will gives insight into Saudi Arabia’s ban on women. Note that women in Saudi Arabia have a higher rate of obesity than any other country. There are many reasons to let women compete, but perhaps respect is the most important.
In November of this year, the big news coming from the United Nations was the denial of Iran on the executive board for UN Women, a newly formed body that combines four previous women’s rights agencies. Under the guidance of Under-Secretary General Michelle Bachalet, former President of Chile, and a 41 member executive board, the group is charged with a mission to promote gender equality and empowerment. Unfortunately, seats are allotted based on who gives the most money (donor countries) and then it is organized based on equitable geographic distribution. Up until the actual vote, there were 10 seats allotted to Asian countries and 10 nominees, one of which was Iran. WAIT! Politics reared its ugly head and out of absolutely NO WHERE came the the teeny, tiny nation of East Timor. So the voting countries all aligned, whispered, traded favors and BOOM! East Timor gets the vote and Iran is out.
“We have made no secret of our concern that Iran joining the board of UN Women would have been an inauspicious start to that board,” said U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice.
And the WORLD rejoiced. You could hear the silent hurrahs from women across the globe, giving symbolic high-fives to one another, for FINALLY, women are vindicated. Countries from around the world bonded together and showed Iran that we are NOT going to take it anymore. Women are precious, powerful, brilliant, and they will be afforded equality and be empowered…until…something was wonderful and yet…it was all a sham…it was hard to put one’s finger on it, but something was completely unsettling.
A quick view of the “donor countries” threw the entire vote, the group and the often misunderstood (mainly because it is so easy to understand them) United Nations into nothing more than a disgusting display of promises and politics as usual. Six of the 41 spots on the executive board are reserved for countries that “donate” the most money. Norway, the United Kingdom, the United States, Spain, Mexico and SAUDI ARABIA. One of only three countries (Brunei, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia) that denies women the right to compete in the Olympics.
Saudi Arabia has legally declared women inferior to men. According to Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML), “Saudi women are considered incapable of managing their own affairs, requiring male permission before receiving emergency medical treatment, traveling, or leaving the home. Moreover, women are not permitted to drive, vote, attend schools for “male specific” fields, or participate in sports.”
Iran sent three women to the 2008 Olympics, part of a 55 member team. The three competed in their own sports – rowing, archery and taekwondo. In fact, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad praised women athletes who represented the country in the 16th Asian Games in Guangzhou, China, this past November. “We need to plan from now so that, God willing, … our girls will collect all the gold medals,” Ahmadinejad told the returning athletes Sunday.
Saudi dissident Ali al-Ahmed, with the Institute for Gulf Affairs, launched a protest campaign this past July entitled, “No Women. No Play,” holding the I.O.C accountable and asking for the suspension of Saudi Arabia from Olympic competition until women are allowed to participate. Ahmed cites the I.O.C’s ban of South Africa in 1964 because it refused to renounce Apartheid and lift its ban on competition between white and black athletes. The ban would last nearly three decades. Will they do the same to Saudi Arabia because of their exclusion of women? After all, the Olympic Charter states, “Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.”
According to an opinion article by Katherine Zoepf with NEXT, “A spokeswoman for the I.O.C., Emmanuelle Moreau, suggested in an e-mail exchange that the I.O.C. had no intention of formally censuring countries that did not allow women to participate in the Olympics. She said the organization did not plan to give Saudi Arabia a deadline for women to participate, as it did with South Africa.”
But, Saudi Arabia may eventually see the need to allow women and girls the right to exercise freely. While Zoepf’s article cited harsh attitudes toward women and girls engaging in physical activity, “Other clerics argue that sports are absolutely off limits only for virgins, who could become unmarriageable if they were to damage their hymens through athletic activity,” a 2007 World Health Organization report: Obesity: an emerging problem in Saudi Arabia, cites the obesity rate among women in Saudi Arabia outpaces men in every age group in their country and around the world.
I think it’s time – No Women. No Play.