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Saudis should be banned from Olympic Games


Penny Hopkins
WVoN co-editor

It seems that I was a bit too optimistic when I posted my article, “Pressure pays off – at least one Saudi woman will take part at 2012 Olympics” just under a month ago.

The Saudis seemed to have turned a corner when they announced that there would be female representation in their team.

Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz had said that female athletes would be allowed to go provided that “their sports meet the standards of women’s decency and don’t contradict Islamic laws.”

And then came the spectacular u-turn.

On 4 April, Prince Nawaf al-Faisal announced that “At present, we are not embracing any female Saudi participation in the Olympics or other international championships,”

He continued: “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.”

In other words, no woman would be included in the official team, but they could compete as private citizens if they so wished.

This harks back to the situation in 2010 when equestrienne, Dalma Rushdi Malhas, competed in the World Youth Games under her own initiative, winning a bronze medal in Singapore.

It was thought that Malhas had the best chance of competing this year as an official member of the team, but now it seems that even equestrian dress falls foul of the Saudi idea of “appropriate” clothing.

There are now calls for the Saudi Arabian team to be banned altogether from this year’s Olympic Games.

It would not be the first time for the committee to impose a ban on a country, the best-known being the one against South Africa from 1964-1992 due to continued operation of the apartheid system.

Afghanistan was also banned from the 2000 Games in Sydney, partly because of the Taliban’s discrimination against women.

There is no doubt that the Saudi Arabian policy is in direct contravention of the Olympic Charter which states: “Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic movement.”

So why isn’t the International Olympic Committee (IOC) threatening to ban the Saudis?

It has uttered some strong words, notably from Australian member, Kevan Gosper, who called it “imperative” that women should be included in the team.  But the IOC has stopped short of issuing the ultimate threat of exclusion.

Other organisations are not so reticent.  The Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation has called for the IOC to seriously consider a ban.

On 5th April its chief executive, Sue Tibballs issued a press release saying that:“Saudi Arabia’s current refusal to send sportswomen to the Olympics puts them directly at odds with one of the IOC’s Fundamental Principles….

“If today’s reports are to be believed the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation would expect the IOC to defend the Olympic Charter and exclude Saudi Arabia from IOC membership and the London 2012 Games.”

But the IOC is still backing diplomatic efforts.  Its president, Jacques Rogge, said at a news conference on Friday: “We’re still discussing (this) with our colleague on the Saudi national Olympic committee. This is an ongoing discussion, but it is a bit too soon to come to conclusions.”

Too soon?  With fewer than 100 days to go before the start of the Games the decision makers are seriously running out of time.

One thing is for sure – if the IOC has any chance of avoiding the charge of hypocrisy in the choice of who they ban and who they don’t, it needs to persuade the Saudi authorities to include a woman or take a stand and ban the country from competing in the 2012 Olympics in London.

And soon.

  1. The trouble is as your example of South Africa shows if racism then we’ll ban, sexism well they won’t do a thing! To many sexists the world over, that’s the trouble!

  2. Jane Da Vall says:

    It is a disgrace that the IOC haven’t banned the Saudis, and equally that the West has no qualms doing business with them. It shows how open to political influence the IOC is. They have no problem banning the little countries, but when oil is at stake, well that’s different.

  3. South Africa and Afghanistan are hardly small countries…! Though I agree that Saudi Arabia definitely should be banned if they refuse to allow women to participate. But talks are ongoing – I’m going to be optimistic and hope that negotiations are going well and the Saudis will change their policy. Then, if that fails, a ban.

    • Jane Da Vall says:

      I didn’t mean geographically, I meant their global influence is small, so there was no political pressure on the IOC to accommodate them. When the troops move out, Afghanistan will go back to being a failed state whose only impact on the world is the terrorists they produce.

      Otherwise, I agree with you.

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