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 A day later, it turned out why the Kingdom had reversed its outdated stance; Saudi Arabia’s only real contender to feature in the Olympics had been a 20-year old equestrian - Dalma Rushdi Malhas - who had failed to qualify for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