Sporting News | Saudi Women May Soon See Athletic Opportunities

the-fight-for-rights-photo-by-exchanges-photos.jpg

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - Progress towards greater gender equality continues in Saudi Arabia. Last year, King Abdullah allowed the addition of physical education programs in private schools. 2012 saw the first Saudi female athletes competing in Olympic games. And now, the Shura Council has voted to expand athletic programs to public schools throughout the Kingdom. While Saudi women remain some of the most restricted in the world, their cause is gaining momentum.

Growing concerns over women's health are at the core of the movement. Increased heart disease, obesity and diabetes threaten Saudi women at much higher rates than their male counterparts. According to Human Rights Watch, as many as 33% of women likely suffer from obesity, and 25% are plagued by diabetes. Regular exercise through physical education regimens and after-school sporting opportunities could greatly offset these life-threatening conditions, according to doctors.

The Shura Council has little power in Saudi government, but the assembly fills an important gap between the people and lawmakers. The Council's recommendation will be forwarded to the education ministry. This department will have the final say. In recent years, high-power clerics have questioned the longstanding ban on female recreation, stating that the Qur'an does not explicitly oppose this activity.

Externally, Saudi Arabia was the subject of international pressure. Until the 2012 Summer Olympics, the Kingdom was the only country recognized by the International Olympic Committee to prohibit female participants. The London games saw two Saudi women competitors, Wojdan Ali Seraj and Abdulrahim Shahrkhani, who competed in judo and track, respectively. The ladies' achievements were veiled, as the events were not televised in their mother country.

The makeup of the Shura Council is in itself indicative of the direction of the country. Last year, King Abdullah included 30 women on the board of 150 advisors. In the past, the Council had been exclusively male. But, the assembly's new power balance is not representative of wider Saudi society. Legally, women are unable to participate in business dealings, drive cars or even vote. Even so, Saudi women work in sales, education and now, law. Earlier this year, Bayan Mahmoud Al-Zahran was the first woman in the Kingdom to gain her lawyer's license.

However necessary, the implementation of female athletics could prove dubious. Even the discussion of expanding of women's athletics generated controversy from conservative Council members. If the education ministry approves wider sporting provisions, participants will abide by Sharia codes. According to these Islamic laws, traditional attire and female supervision will be mandated during sport practices and events.

The Council's endorsement is just one component of an increasingly progressive Saudi Arabia. Last August, King Abdullah took official action against domestic violence. The order provides victims with necessary medical treatment and levies serious punishments against culpable parties. By most data, Saudi Arabia is home to the most codified gender inequity in the world, and yet, developments continue to give hope to the women of the Kingdom.

Follow Michael on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Senior Correspondent: @MAndrewRansom

Related articles

Oscar Pistorius Wows 2012 London Olympics

oscar-pistorius-blade-runner-2012-olympics-photo-by-all-sports-scene.jpg

Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 00:05 AM EDT, 11 September 2012

Oscar Pistorius, Photo by Global Sports ForumLONDON, England – South Africa's Oscar Pistorius, also known as the ‘Blade Runner,’ races wearing carbon fiber prosthetic blades because he was born without a fibula in both legs which were amputated before he was a year old.

Pistorius is the first Paralympian to compete in the Olympics against able-bodied athletes. This double amputee inspired spectators, fellow Olympians, and Paralympians with his outstanding sports prowess at the 2012 London Olympics.

Controversy surrounding his use of the carbon fiber prosthetic blades and the potential advantage they may afford him against able-bodied runners was resolved in advance of his participation in the games though some remained unconvinced.

Pistorius, who is also known as 'the fastest man on no legs' brushed off any criticism and focused his attention on the games, and amazingly qualified for the 400 semi-finals though he did not make the finals.

On Saturday, 8 September 2012, Pistorius subsequently competed and won the final Paralympic Games track gold medal in the men's 400 meters as well as a gold medal in the 4x100 relay. This despite coming up short in his bid to defend the 100 and 200 titles he won in Beijing four years ago.

The Paralympics was the second-largest multi-sport event ever held in the United Kingdom after the 2012 Summer Olympics, and were the largest and most commercially successful Paralympics ever; 4,294 athletes from 164 National Paralympic Committees participated. The London Olympic Games contributed to significantly higher demand for tickets than ever before, breaking numerous sales records. (Source: Wikipedia)

London’s success in hosting the 2012 Summer Olympics also benefited the Paralympic sports by elevating global awareness and public enthusiasm for these inspirational games and the phenomenal participants who overcome significant life challenges to compete at the highest levels attainable by athletes from around the world.

"I'm so proud, this summer has been a dream come true and I couldn't hope for anything better. It's my 11th time on this track and I wanted to give the crowd something special that they could take home with them." (Source: Reuters)

[slideshow]

Follow Nahmias Cipher Report on Twitter
Twitter: @nahmias_report Editor: @ayannanahmias