No Female Olympians for Saudi Arabia

Today we bring you yet another story of Islamic countries giving their female athletes the shaft. It turns out that Saudi Arabia, a country that has never sent a woman to the Olympics, ain’t about to start:

According to Thursday’s editions of Al-Watan newspaper, an all-but-official government organ, Saudi Olympic Committee president Prince Nawaf Bin-Faisal (a member of the Saudi royal family and the country’s sports minister), told a Wednesday press conference, that he “does not endorse female participation of Saudi Arabia at the present time in the Olympics and international tournaments.”

The prince also was quoted as saying, cryptically, “Female Saudi participation will be according to the wishes of students and others living abroad. All we are doing is to ensure that participation is in the proper framework and in conformity with sharia (Islamic law).”

As Philip Hersh explains in the article, this essentially means that women’s participation will be limited to unofficial delegates, neither endorsed by their home country nor subject to its rules, but invited independently by the IOC. This goes against the official Olympic Charter, which states that

“Any form of discrimination with regard to a country on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.”

Not only that, but it creates a second class of female Saudi athletes, tacitly endorsing the country’s subjugation of women. Commenter I, Claudia made an excellent point to this effect on a recent post about FIFA’s hijab ban:

In doing this, and in playing along with the little theater where we all pretend that this is not a special accomodation based on pity, we perpetuate the situation where women are denied a full freedom of choice. On the other hand, if we staunchly refuse, the end result will be that these women are forced to stay home and not play, which can hardly be spun as a blow in favor of their freedom.

In situations like these, the governing body of a league like FIFA or an event like the Olympics has to walk a fine line in trying to increase women’s participation. A zero-tolerance policy with regard to gender discrimination would definitely make a point, but at the cost of even the slight female presence that exists now. Making accommodations, much like FIFA did when it lifted its ban on headscarves, lends legitimacy to the entire misogynistic cultural construct, and may postpone ultimate goals for the sake of short-term gain.

Hersh calls for Saudi Arabia and the two other countries that don’t allow female athletes, Brunei and Qatar, to be banned from participating in the Olympics until they change their tunes. I’m not sure I can agree -– in fact, this is one instance in which I really don’t know what the best course of action would be. Should these countries be barred from sending any athletes, so that the Olympics can send a strong and consistent message about equality and human rights? Or are inroads of any kind, even less-than-ideal ones, valuable for their ability to chip away at an entrenched worldview?

What do you think?

About Megan Wells

Megan Wells is an IT tech and sports blogger in Chicago.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Austin-Carnes/1034156402 Austin Carnes

    If they won’t allow their female athletes to compete then none of their athletes should be allowed to compete. Saudi Arabia, and any other country that bars women from competing, should be banned from the Olympics. 

    • Anonymous

      I agree with Austin completely on this.  I think a zero tolerance for the type of misogyny that exists in those countries is the message that should be sent.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Phil-Giordana-Fcd/685136164 Phil Giordana Fcd

    Yep, if they want to ban female athletes from competing, they must simply be banned. 

  • Andi

    I think that banning the countries from participating might bother the male athletes enough for them to take a stand in favor of allowing women to participate.  This is a bit different than the issue with FIFA in that Saudi women won’t be allowed to participate period, so imposing sanctions against the entire country doesn’t negatively affect the women’s participation.  

  • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

    They should be banned from any participation in the Olympics. A case could be made for some sort of exception if there was any evidence that it would, in the long run, result in a change of status for their women athletes. But I don’t think that’s the case.

  • Anonymous

     Today we bring you yet another story of Islamic countries giving their female athletes the shaft.

    According to Thursday’s editions of Al-Watan newspaper, an all-but-official government organ…

    No pun intended with either of these I presume?

    To the point though, if they can’t follow the rules, then they don’t get invited, it’s plain and simple. This goes to a larger point of “inclusion.” Now we have Donald Trump accepting a trans-gender contestant into the pageant. It’s a private event, and if you don’t like the rules then I don’t understand why you force your way into it. Same with the church. If you don’t like the fact that they don’t want to recognize gay marriage, maybe it’s time to look deeper and see if that’s something you want to be a part of.

    By lending credence to these organizations by making them change, you just build resentment by those that were there before you got there. Instead, go out and build your own thing and attract people to your side and away from theirs.

    I’m pretty sure the atheist movement wouldn’t flourish by going into churches and trying to get the preachers to say that there is no god. So why should society allow nations that oppress women to participate anyway just to get more people involved? You’re only going to let the bully knock you off the swing so many times before you stop playing with him.

    • Yessenia

      Not to mention that the Olympics banned South Africa from competing not to long ago.  Why is racial apartheid treated differently from gender apartheid? Letting patriarchal theocracies off the hook sends the message that while it’s not ok to oppress black people, it’s perfectly fine to oppress women, and we’ll bend over backwards to help you out. 

      • Anonymous

        True x 1000!

      • Anonymous

         Exactly. There’s a difference between equality and inclusion, and I think some people are trying to blur those distinctions. Sometimes the way to equality is through direct exclusion so those being oppressed can have a voice through others.

  • Marco Conti

    I am for completely banning any country that prevents women from participating in the Olympics. 
    That is the only leverage they really have. 
    If your women cannot participate, your men stay home too. 

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/FDGYHBEWVNGUG763L5X4TON3JQ Nazani14

    The best course of action is anything that gets a woman on a plane  leaving a repressive regime.  It would be great for anti-woman, anti-gay states to lose a bunch of their most talented people.

  • Marko

    I must say that I don’t see what’s the dilemma here – of course they should be banned from the Olympics. Would you ever say something like this:

    [Someone] calls for countries that don’t allow black athletes  to be banned from participating in
    the Olympics until they change their tunes. I’m not sure I can agree -–
    in fact, this is one instance in which I really don’t know what the best
    course of action would be. Should these countries be barred from
    sending any athletes, so that the Olympics can send a strong and
    consistent message about equality and human rights?

    I think that the reaction from the IOC in this case would be really swift and straightforward, don’t you agree?

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/DG3R7TJV2PKYJ4E5PRQKBWJIHY Anonymous

    Well, if you’re going to ban Saudi Arabia, you might as well ban the US for our multitudes of discrimination

    • http://twitter.com/phoo Chris Irwin Davis

      To which US government mandated discrimination are you referring?

  • http://www.holytape.etsy.com Holytape

    Ban them. Or just state that countries must send roughly equal amounts of males and females.  The FIFA decision at least increased female participation in the short term.  Letting the guys go to the olympic doesn’t increase female participation.

  • Nude0007

    All the athletes from this country should be banned. It is not the olympic committe preventing the female athletes from competing, it is their government. If we let them get away with it, we do not encourage the women to make changes in their government, but accept that they are second class citizens. It’s like allowing slaves to compete with shackles on because that is how they are treated in their home country (no particular country implied) This should not even be a question. Perhaps an even stronger message would be sent by allowing ONLY the female contestants to compete, but I am not sure.
    If anyone knows where to send recommendations to the people in charge, let us know.

  • Giant enemy crab

    Like others have already said – countries which refuse to follow the rules should not be allowed to enter the games at all, they are not entitled to a place in the games. However, I am confident that the IOC are more than willing enough to look the other way for the sake of a few monies.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    While they’re at it, they should give women and men equitable uniform choices.*

    (in beach volleyball woman are required to wear skimpy bathing suits, while men where loose fitting large shorts)

    • Anonymous

       Same bullshit, different direction.

  • Nathanael

    Ban ‘em.  There are only three countries this repressive, regressive, and awful.  They need to be isolated, shunned.  Men from these countries need to know why their country is being shunned.  Of course refugees should be welcomed.

    If it were a huge number of countries the correct tactics might be different.  But at this point theses are outlier countries; their governments won’t ‘see the light’ through simple exposure to the outside world.  Furthermore, it seems clear they’re using their oil money to get special treatment, which is really unacceptable.

  • Anonymous

    It’s one thing to discuss the allowing of a minor accomodation (like a small headscarf) in order to increase female participation. That’s a debate worth having and I can see good arguments on either side.

    This situation is much more clear cut. A country has decided that it simply will not allow women to participate as members of their team. The Olympic Charter is crystal clear on this matter. If they don’t want to allow female participants, their male athletes can sit this one out too. Since they obviously don’t care about their women, maybe they’ll reconsider their stance if they discover that their decision is negatively effecting their precious men too.

  • chicago dyke, venomous lesbian

    although i would feel bad for the male athletes denied their chance at olympic glory, i am in favor of the ban. it’s pretty plain that these nations violate what the IOC claims is required/important wrt gender. 

    however, and i’ll probably get flamed here for this, i don’t agree that athletes should be denied the right to wear whatever sort of uniform they choose to compete in, including head coverings. lots of olympic athletes cover their heads (swimmers, track and field, horse riders) so what’s the bid deal. if an islamic female athlete wants to wear a uniform that covers her flesh and head completely, that should be allowed. the sports uniform manufacturers can make anything these days, including those compliant with islamic or middle eastern cultures. 

    • I_Claudia

       I think the controversy is as much about special treatment as it is about the subjugation of women. Though I’m sure people wouldn’t be fans of the headscarf in any case, if the general rule was that you can (within safety) wear whatever you want to wear, no matter who you are, I’m guessing there would be fewer objections. As distasteful as the scarf may be to many of us, the special carve-out of rules everyone else has to follow is what gets people especially worked up.

      Off Topic: I notice you’ve edited your screen name. Were people reading “chicago dyke” and somehow expecting a wilting, fainting flower? ;-)

    • Yessenia

      Nope. The Olympics rules forbid the use of the games to promote political ideas.  In 1968, to black athletes were disqualified for putting on a glove and giving a black power salute: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1968_Olympics_Black_Power_salute.

      “International Olympic Committee (IOC) president, Avery Brundage,
      deemed it to be a domestic political statement, unfit for the
      apolitical, international forum the Olympic Games were supposed to be.
      In an immediate response to their actions, he ordered Smith and Carlos
      suspended from the U.S. team and banned from the Olympic Village. When
      the US Olympic Committee refused, Brundage threatened to ban the entire
      US track team. This threat led to the two athletes being expelled from
      the Games.”

      It’s one thing to wear a swim cap to make you faster. It’s another to wear a garment that is extremely political to make the statement that women should always be covered.

  • Sffp1

    Ban them. Ban them high…

  • Felicity Graham

    Ban, ban, ban. International embarrassment is about the only way this is going to be changed. To be made a laughingstock because of their refusal to move forward means saving face (by allowing women) will eventually have to happen.

  • Will Ross

    RSA was a pariah state. KSA is a valued partner and friend.

    Either we come out and say that we consider their treatment of women unacceptable, so there is no question of their joining us in sport or any other activity (and get along without their oil) or we work out the best compromises that we can for all concerned.In practice, the complicated and messy business of talking as a friend often does more good than a simple, clean stand based on fundamentalist principles. 

    I’m not saying that exclusion is wrong: just that I understand the hesitation.

  • http://www.facebook.com/asajoh Ása ‘Freya’ Johannesen

    Banhammer all the way. There really is no question about what is right here.


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