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Ban Saudi Arabia from the Olympic Games

28th June 2012

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On Sunday evening, it was announced that - after coming under mounting international pressure - Saudi Arabia would be allowing women to compete in the London 2012 Olympic Games. Via the Saudi Embassy in London, officials announced that the nation’s Olympic committee would “oversee participation of women athletes who can qualify”.

It was considered a big step forward for the Islamic Kingdom, with the nation’s key religious clerics adamantly opposed to such a measure, and paraded as a breakthrough for human rights with Qatar and Brunei also sending their first female athletes to the games. The International Olympic Committee also took a sigh of relief. The organisation had been pressing Saudi Arabia to allow women to compete for many months and would end speculation whether the entire team should be disqualified.

Yet, it was a short lived victory. A day later, it turned out why the Kingdom had reversed its outdated stance; Saudi Arabia’s only real contender to feature in the Olympics had been a 20-year old equestrian - Dalma Rushdi Malhas - who had failed to qualify for the games.

The decision then was nothing but a PR smokescreen; a decision taken by the Saudi National Olympic Committee to appease the IOC with the knowledge that the change in policy would not be implemented. It was purely a token effort proposed to manifest itself as progress. Indeed, nothing has changed with the Kingdom set to be the last and only nation never to name a woman competitor.

Indeed, Saudi officials never promise that a woman would compete, but that they would allow one to if they can qualify. However, after US-born Malhas has failed to reach the qualifying standards, there is no one left in the frame. 

The reason? Saudi Arabia is an ultra-conservative state, which follows a strict traditional interpretation of Islam where women have less rights than their male counter-parts; they have a lower legal status, are not allowed to travel without male permission and are not permitted to drive. In public, women are not allowed to show any part of their body beyond their eyes and hands.

This also transcends into sport, with severe repressive restrictions on physical exercise for women. This includes that girls schools are not authorised to partake in sport, including the teaching of PE lessons. Women are also prohibited from playing team sports and are banned access to Saudi sporting facilities such as gyms and swimming pools, with private woman-only premises closed in 2009 and 2010. 

The reason for such harsh restrictions is based on the belief that opening sport to women will “lead to immorality”. The only immorality, however, is the policies opposed on women by the Saudi authorities. They are a flagrant spurning of the most basic human rights with law discriminating against women based purely on their gender.

In fact, these laws contravene the Olympic Charter with the fourth principle stating that: "The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practising sport, without discrimination of any kind". This is exactly what is happening in Saudi Arabia, directly going against one of the organisation’s core principles.

South Africa were banned in 1968 for this reason with its Apartheid policy resulting in segregation in sport with an Olympic team that would not be racially integrated. This was followed by other sporting bodies boycotting the nation; its effect with paramount with the lack of international sport cited as one of worst things about Apartheid, affecting the white population far more than trade embargoes. Afghanistan were similarly banned in 2000 for its oppression of women under the Taliban

Of course, South Africa was a easy nation to bar for the West, whilst it is unlikely that the US or Europe will want to aggravate one of its last remaining Middle Eastern allies - hence why the UK has failed to try and implement a ban itself, like that against the Head of the Syrian Olympic Committee.

The effect in Saudi Arabia would also be far less resounding than in Apartheid; in truth, a ban of the Kingdom may have little real effect. Nonetheless, as the IOC charter states; "Any form of discrimination on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement." 

Saudi Arabia is doing this to an extreme level, with a unethical and repressive measures imposed on its women and girls. The racial discrimination in South Africa and today’s gender discrimination in Saudi Arabia are equivalent in its severity. Until that has changed, Saudi Arabia should be banned from competing in the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Do You Agree? Should Saudi Arabia Be Banned From The Olympics?


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