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Beyond Olympics: Women and Sports in Arabia

Basketball teams Jeddah United of Saudi Arabia and Universiti Malaya of Malaysia pose before the start of their match in Kuala Lampur

As IOC (International Olympic Committee) assess a list of female candidates upon receiving a last minute unofficial inclusion decision from Saudi Arabia, we could possibly begin writing history of Saudi women’s sports this year.

Reema Abdullah - a well-known sports commentator and founding member of a sports company - will also bear the Olympic torch along with others this exciting summer. Reema has perhaps been more graciously open about her personal initiative than official bodies here.

History aside, despite the palpable challenges women have been writing their own stories in sports for some time. Dalma Rushdi, unofficially participated at her own accord in 2010. Much to everyone’s surprise, the 18 yr old equestrienne as well secured bronze medal at ‘Singapore youth Olympics 2010’.

The current 150+officially supported clubs prides not having a single women’s section. Few years ago, couple of women founded a sports management and training company. it remains the only private sports entity that trains women’s basketball, volleyball team; while in recent years few women’s soccer teams receives training unofficially utilizing health facilities and other private spaces.

With likely women Olympics debut emerges many paradoxes. Saudi Arabia already holds the dubious honor of being the only country where women are not allowed to drive but can fly a plane. Now it will add another to its list – where even physical education classes in state-run girl’s schools are not permitted yet women participate in sports at Olympic level.

Generally,the idea of women’s sports is vilipended and the official stance on women sports has never been perspicacious; it’s ill-informed. The benefit of sports for women crosses beyond the borders of physiology – sports brings substantial psychological and sociological advantages for women. Who will tell them?
In spite of participating at Olympics the painful fact remains static - most women are not prepared to compete at Olympic level and, there’s a dire need to develop sporting culture at regional/national level for women. We can only begin laying out the foundation when PE classes are allowed in all schools. It's a basic right. The process must accelerate without delay; our girls are growing up without sensing the sporting spirit at all. I never played anything at school, I don't want my young niece to be deprived of this opportunity.

The birth of organized sports will unlock the doors for more regional interaction; improved understanding among different communities and possibly men’s sports team could borrow some much needed inspiration from women’s team!
We can excogitate and create a more enabling environment for overall sports in the country; our sporting lads and ladies needs to be supported!

Approximately 30-50% women in Saudi Arabia suffer from osteoporosis, almost over 70% Saudi women suffer from vitamin D deficiency (including me). The high rates of obesity, diabetes, depression and breast cancer is not enviable either. How many more diseases we need to inflict on us to convince?

Women actively involved in sports develop a positive body image, confidence, self-worth and decreases incidences of depression, smoking and drug use. Sports teach teamwork, achievement oriented behavior, discipline, punctuality, focus and cooperation. It also teaches you to be a good winner and a good loser! These are fundamental attributes and skills required to build a nation. How do you make them understand?

It appears quite possibly some would prefer young women to smoke cigarettes and ‘Shisha’ than channel their surplus energy into productive, healthy activities. Of course, since smoking Shisha fits the culture, even if it’s discouraged by religion.

Toxic views held against women and sports are hindering women’s mental, physical and social development and what affects women negatively - affects the entire society - negatively.

Similar to cars, detrimental mindsets have also genderized sports. Yes, it’s exclusively masculine and it belongs to them.
Which persuades me to re-frame a commonly asked question – ‘what sports could do for women?’ in lieu I ask ‘What women could do for sports?’


mrbeckbeck's picture

Great piece!

This is a wonderful piece, Farona! It reads like a great OpEd, with a timely hook, loads of evidence and a clear call to action. Are thinking of trying to pitch this for publication anywhere?

It's a great question-- what could women do for sports? And even, what could women in sports do for Saudi Arabia? It's exciting to ponder these questions knowing that a glimmer of hope is shining. I hope that one day you can go watch your niece play a soccer match or basketball game!

Thanks for posting here,

Scott Beck
World Pulse Online Community Volunteer

Amei's picture

Yes! Farona! I wonder

Totally agree with Scott :-) so I am sharing my other thoughts

I am actaully disheartened for a long time.That is since realising that all humans are equal. How men has been treating women as long as humanity existed.

I have stood up and I still get second grade attitude from some men. I do hope the Islamic nations do act like real muslims and treat all humans equal. When muslims believe it is their deeds that get judged and NOT by gender.

Women will have to stand up an dnot tolerate the discrimination. Until we do take action nothing wil change by it self.

I am glad I met you and read this article. You inspire me to keep hopeful.

BTW - is it posiible to travel to Saudi Arabia as a single woman? Someone said it is not possible. Could you put somelight on this?

May Allah keep you blessed and safe


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