As the World awaits for the 2012 Olympics, the Human Rights Watch has released a report condemning the Saudi government for banning women in sports. The Saudi government is continuously discriminating against women in sports and physical education, and has never sent a female athlete to the Olympics, with no penalty from the international Olympic authorities, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today.
Human Rights Watch called on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to put an end to the discrimination against women in sports in the kingdom a condition for Saudi Arabia’s participation in Olympic sporting events, including the 2012 London Games. “The fact that women and girls cannot train to compete clearly violates the Olympic Charter’s pledge to equality and gives the Olympic movement itself a black eye, ”according to Christoph Wilcke, senior Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch.
Saudi Arabia is one of only three countries in the world never to have sent a female athlete to the Olympics. The other two, Qatar and Brunei, do not bar women from competitive sports and their women athletes have taken part in other international sporting competitions. Qatar has supported sports for women over the past decade and said that it plans to send women athletes to the London 2012 Olympic Games.
The 51-page report, “‘Steps of the Devil’: Denial of Women and Girls’ Right to Sport in Saudi Arabia,” documents prejudice by Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Education in denying girls physical education in state schools, as well as discriminatory practices by the General Presidency for Youth Welfare, a youth and sports ministry, in licensing women’s gyms and supporting only all-male sports clubs. The National Olympic Committee of Saudi Arabia also has no programmes for women athletes and has not fielded women in past Olympic Games.
While the IOC has criticized Saudi Arabia for failing to send women athletes to the Olympics, it has not conditioned the kingdom’s participation on ending discrimination against women in sports. In July 2011, IOC spokeswoman Sandrine Tonge said that the IOC governing body “does not give ultimatums nor deadlines but rather believes that a lot can be achieved through dialogue.” The IOC charter, however, asserts that sport is a right for everyone and bans discrimination in practicing sports on the basis of gender. Human Rights Watch called on Saudi Arabia to act within one year to introduce physical education for girls in all schools, open women’s sections, and fund women’s sport in the youth ministry, the Saudi National Olympic Committee, and Saudi sports federations. The organization said that these steps are essential proof of a Saudi effort to end discrimination against women in sports and thus a precondition for allowing the kingdom to be represented in Olympic events.
Women and girls are not only denied the excitement of competition, but also the physical and psychological benefits, leading to longer, healthier lives, that participation in sports conveys. Obesity rates have been on the rise in Saudi Arabia in recent years, in particular among women, as have related diseases, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. In Saudi Arabia, between two-thirds to three-quarters of adults and 25 to 40 percent of children and adolescents are estimated to be overweight or obese, according to a scientific article in Obesity Review in 2011.