Brunei to Send Its First Female Athlete to the Olympics
By Marc MCDONALD
HONG KONG — The International Olympic Committee banned South Africa from the Olympics for nearly 30 years, until 1992, because of the repugnant official policy of apartheid that kept black athletes from competing. Nevertheless, the I.O.C. has continued to allow three nations that discriminate against female athletes to continue to participate in the Games.
“We’re pressing them” has long been the I.O.C.’s answer to criticisms about the so-called gender apartheid that bars women and girls from participating in the Olympics, not to mention competitive sports, recreational activities, even physical education classes.
Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the Southeast Asian nation of Brunei have never sent a female athlete to an Olympics, although they have all sent male athletes. That situation appears likely to change this year at the Summer Olympics in London.
A senior Olympic official from Brunei told Rendezvous on Wednesday that the country has formally submitted to the I.O.C. its list of eligible athletes for the London Games — including, for the first time ever, at least one woman, Maziah Mahusin, a hurdler and 400-meter runner.
Ms. Mahusin, who turned 19 last Sunday, trains and competes without a head scarf. She is still developing as an athlete and would be no threat to win a medal in London. She finished last in her qualifying heat in the 400 at the recent World Indoor Championships in Istanbul.
But the Brunei official said she would compete in London under the I.O.C’s concept of universality — the inclusion of certain competitors even if they do not meet international standards.
The official spoke privately about Ms. Mahusin’s nomination, pending an official announcement by his Olympic committee, which is set for Thursday.
Ms. Mahusin won an Olympic scholarship that pays for living and training expenses leading up to the Games, and she is planning to move to London soon for four months of preparation. The Games begin July 27.
In December, after winning the scholarship, she said in a story in the Brunei Times, “I am excited and nervous because there will be new coaches to work with, and the training regime will be highly intensive compared to Brunei, conducted by high-level athletic coaches.”
Brunei, on the northern coast of the island of Borneo, is a predominantly Muslim sultanate that is rich in oil and gas. With a population of just over 400,000, Brunei has a per capita G.D.P. that is the fifth-highest in the world, according to the most recent Forbes ranking, with an average of more than $48,000 per person.
As my colleagues Jeré Longman and Mary Pilon report, Saudi Arabia also appears set to send female athletes (or possibly just one) to London.
Human Rights Watch has accused the Saudi government of “systematically discriminating against women in sports and physical education.” The group issued a scathing report last month outlining the Saudi situation. The report was titled “Steps of the Devil.”
“The fact that women and girls cannot train to compete clearly violates the Olympic Charter’s pledge to equality and gives the Olympic movement itself a black eye,” said Christoph Wilcke, senior Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch.
As Jeré and Mary write about Saudi Arabia, Brunei and Qatar:
Saudi Arabia, a monarchy whose legal system is based on Islamic law, is considered the most significant of the three, given its size, international oil influence and severe restrictions placed on women in daily life. While female athletes from Qatar and Brunei have participated in national and regional competitions, Saudi Arabia has essentially barred sports for women, according to Human Rights Watch.
A pan-Arab newspaper based in London, Al Hayat, reported Tuesday that the Saudi Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz has approved the participation of female athletes in London as long as their sports “meet the standards of women’s decency and don’t contradict Islamic laws.”
The International Olympic Committee said in a statement that it met with Saudi Olympic officials last week and that it was “confident that Saudi Arabia is working to include women athletes and officials at the Olympic Games in London.”