IOC urged to use London Olympics to end Saudi prejudice against female athletes

By Elham Asaad Buaras

IOC praised the Saudis for allowing Dalma Malas to take part in the youth games omitting the fact that she was a self-financed unofficial team member.

A leading human rights organisation has urged the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to pressure Saudi Arabia to end its discrimination against women in sports as a prerequisite for allowing the Kingdom to participate in this summer’s London Games.
In its report Steps of the Devil: Denial of Women and Girls’ Right to Sport in Saudi Arabia released Human Rights Watch (HRW) criticised the IOC for failing to penalise National Olympic Committee (NOC) of Saudi Arabia for not fielding a single female athlete to any of the past Olympics (along with Brunei and Qatar) nor having any sport program for women.
The IOC reserves a limited number of places for male and female athletes who are not required to meet the qualifying standards in swimming and athletics events. But despite this concession, Saudi Arabia has never sponsored a female team and its NOC does not have a women’s section.
HRW Senior Middle East Researcher, Christoph Wilcke, said the ban “clearly violates the Olympic Charter’s pledge to equality and gives the Olympic movement itself a black eye.”
HRW also documented discrimination by the Gulf state’s Ministry of Education in denying girls PE in state schools, as well as prejudiced practices by the sports ministry’s licensing women’s gyms and supporting only all-male sports clubs.
Of 153 youth ministry-supported sports clubs in the country, none have a women’s team.
In its interviews with Saudi women, HRW said it found no government sports infrastructure for women, with all designated facilities and officials limited exclusively to men.
“While the IOC has criticised 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,” said HRW in its report.
A spokesman for the IOC told The Muslim News the Committee “encourages” NOCs to uphold the non-discriminatory spirit of the Olympic charter but “does not give ultimatums nor deadlines but rather believes that a lot can be achieved through dialogue.”
The IOC also insisted they are “in regular contact with the three NOCs which have yet to send women to the Olympic Games, ie, Qatar, Brunei and Saudi Arabia. As a result of fruitful discussions, the three NOCs included women in their delegations competing at the Youth Olympic Games in Singapore last summer.
Dalma Rushdi Malhas [the equestrian] was one of them. She was the first female Saudi athlete to compete in an Olympic competition and claimed a bronze medal in the Equestrian Jumping event.
“We are very pleased with this evolution, which can only been seen as a promising development leading towards London 2012.”
However there are precedents of the IOC of giving ultimatums for dealing with member states who violate its Charter.
In 1964 the IOC barred South Africa from taking part in the 18th Olympic Games in Tokyo over its refusal to condemn apartheid.
IOC announced the decision after South Africa failed to meet an ultimatum to comply with its demands that the South African Government renounced racial discrimination in sport and opposed the ban in its own country on competition between white and black athletes.
And in 1999, says HRW, the IOC banned Afghanistan NOC under the Taliban from participating in the 2000 Sydney Olympics due, in part, to the Taliban’s discrimination against women in sport.
However, the IOC failed to confirm if Saudi NOC will send a female athlete to the London Games. The IOC also failed to mention that Malhas, whose participation in the London games remains a doubt, has trained in exclusively private facilities, has self-financed her trip to international competitions and was not officially delegated to represent the Kingdom in the Singapore Youth Olympics.
Saudi OIC were not available for comment.