As the July opening ceremony for the London 2012 Olympics approaches, all nations except Saudi Arabia have confirmed that women athletes will participate in the Olympics, Human Rights Watch said today. The International Olympic Committee’s executive board is meeting in Quebec City from May 23 through May 25 to hear reports on the upcoming Games.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) meeting comes as Saudi Arabia’s National Olympic Committee has failed to confirm the participation of women on its national team for the London Games. At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, only Qatar, Brunei, and Saudi Arabia fielded all-male teams. This year, Qatar and Brunei have confirmed they will send female athletes as part of their teams for the first time, according to HRW.
“Saudi Arabia is the last holdout denying women and girls the ability to take part in sports,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The clock is running out for Saudi women to join the Games, and for the international community to insist that the Saudi government allow women to participate.”
Speaking at a news conference in Jeddah in April, Prince Nawwaf al-Faisal, the Saudi sports minister and head of the Saudi National Olympic Committee, said: “Female sports activity has not existed in Saudi Arabia and there is no move thereto in this regard. At present, we are not embracing any female Saudi participation in the Olympics.”
“This statement violates the Olympic Charter’s 6th Fundamental Principle of Olympism, that any form of discrimination on the basis of gender is incompatible with the Olympic movement”, Human Rights Watch said.
In February, Human Rights Watch released a report,”Steps of the Devil”: Denial of Women’s and Girls’ Rights to Sport in Saudi Arabia, which sets out how the Saudi government systematically discriminates against women seeking to practice sports such as the ban millions of Saudi girls from participating in physical education classes in state schools.
Saudi government officials have written to Human Rights Watch that the country is evaluating girls’ physical education in schools. Some girls’ schools are allowing sports in defiance of the government ban, and there is a vigorous debate about the subject underway in the country.