Well, here’s a shocker, the Saudi theocracy (and like-minded Brunei and Qatar) will not be sending any female athletes to the 2012 Olympics.
As Time’s Nina Burleigh points out:
It’s not because Saudi women athletes don’t exist. They do, but they are few and far between, and face enormous social and legal pressure to sit down and stop moving.
Women in the Kingdom are legally prohibited from breaking a sweat over anything more strenuous than wearing the burka in 120 degree desert heat. To exercise publicly is to risk being smacked with the sticks of the religious police, or worse. Girls don’t expect to learn to swim, ride a bike or, god forbid, do gymnastics.
For a while in the 1990s, Saudi women had gyms where they could exercise, but in 2009 the government decided that Stairmasters and their ilk were gateways to female licentiousness and shuttered 153 women’s gyms…
The ban on gyms came at a time when rates of obesity and diabetes have risen significantly in Saudi Arabia, especially among women and girls, according to HRW. Between two-thirds to three-quarters of adults and 25% to 40% of children and adolescents are estimated to be overweight or obese. A disproportionate number of women also suffer from osteoporosis, also associated with inactivity and lack of Vitamin D (you don’t get much sunlight on your skin under a black blanket or indoors).
As Ms. Burleigh asks:
Imagine, for a moment, a world where your daughter was not just discouraged from playing soccer or swimming or doing gymnastics but prohibited from running in public. Is there a nation in the world that would single out a male minority for similar treatment, and not face diplomatic complaints or sanctions?
But don’t worry, the bureaucrats of the International Olympics Committee are on the case:
“The IOC strives to ensure the Olympic Games and the Olympic movement are universal and non-discriminatory, in line with the Olympic Charter and our values of respect, friendship and excellence. National Olympic committees are encouraged to uphold that spirit in their delegations. The IOC does not give ultimatums or deadlines, but believes a lot can be achieved through dialogue.”
Good luck with that.
In the meantime, this is just another reason to have nothing to do with the grotesque display of extorted-from-the-taxpayer excess that the Olympics represent. Is it really too late for Pyongyang 2012?
Many thanks to the commenter who notes that there are gyms for women in Saudia Arabia. In her article, Nina Burleigh appears to suggest that that is not the case, but here’s what Human Rights Watch has to say:
A few women in Saudi Arabia do play sports, but they are limited to exercising at home or in a few expensive gyms, or playing in underground leagues that are segregated by gender. Saudi Arabia may be the only country in the world where girls, unlike boys, do not receive physical education in government schools, and that has no state programs for supporting competitive female athletes. Besides facing discrimination in schools and competitive sports, Saudi women also encounter obstacles when exercising for their health or playing team sports for fun. No women’s sports clubs exist, and even exercise gyms have to masquerade as “health clubs,” usually attached to hospitals, in order to receive a commercial license, which men’s gyms do not have to do.