Thursday, May 29, 2008

Bar Countries that Ban Women Athletes

Bar Countries that Ban Women Athletes

By Ali Al-Ahmed

International Herald Tribune

May 19, 2008

The procession of the Olympic torch drew protests from

Paris to San Francisco over China 's treatment of the

Tibetan people, but no one has protested another

tragedy that is afflicting millions of women in Saudi

Arabia, Iran and other Muslim countries. Many Muslim

women dare not even dream of the Olympics because their

countries ban female sports altogether or severely

restrict the athletic activities of the "weaker sex."

In a few months world attention will turn to Beijing ,

where over 10,000 athletes representing approximately

200 countries will once again celebrate athletic

competition without borders. Fittingly, the slogan of

the 29th Olympic Games is "One World, One Dream." This

dream, however, will not be realized by women in Saudi

Arabia and other Muslim countries that ban women from

sports domestically and internationally.

The International Olympic Committee charter states that

"any form of discrimination with regard to a country or

a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, sex or

otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement."

But the Olympic Committee is failing to adhere to its

own standards. While the hypothetical example of

participating countries barring black athletes from the

Olympic Games would have rightly caused international

outrage, the committee continues to allow the

participation of countries that do not allow women on

their Olympic teams.

Although the number of all-male teams has been

shrinking steadily - from 35 in Barcelona in 1992 to 26

in Atlanta in 1996 to only 10 in Sydney in 2000 and

four or five at the last Olympics in Athens , the IOC

should do more to eliminate the discriminatory policies

practiced by its members in direct violation of the

Olympic charter. The IOC should take the position that

countries precluding women from participation in the

Olympic Games should be suspended from the Olympic

community until they allow women equal opportunity to

participate. The Olympic committees in the Americas ,

the European Union, and other democratic nations should

take the lead to develop a zero-tolerance policy toward

countries that bar women from the Games. Olympic

athletes, especially those who are world famous, should

also express their support for the full participation of women.

Countries with men-only Olympic teams include Brunei ,

the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia . According to

their respective governments, women are barred from

Olympic participation for "cultural and religious reasons."

For some countries, women's clothing mandated by the

conservative interpretation of religion precludes their

participation in most sports - for instance, Iran 's

female Olympians were limited to pistol- and rifle-

shooting at the Barcelona , Sydney and Athens Olympics.

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that

completely bars women from any sports activity.

Yet there are many predominantly Muslim countries where

women are allowed to compete. Susi Susanti became the

first Olympic athlete to win a gold medal for Indonesia

in badminton, and the majority-Muslim Central Asian

republics of the former Soviet Union impose no

restrictions on female participation. Even Afghanistan

sent a female runner to compete in a 100-meter dash in

Athens (she competed in long trousers and a short-

sleeved top). Algeria 's Hassiba Boulmerka won the

1,500-meter race in 1992 wearing contemporary running shorts.

For the last 15 years, many international

nongovernmental organizations worldwide have been

trying to lobby the IOC for better enforcement of its

own laws banning gender discrimination. After the 1992

Olympics, the group Atlanta/Sydney Plus took the lead

in pressing the IOC to increase participation of women

in the Games. While their efforts did result in

increasing numbers of women Olympians, the IOC has been

reluctant to take a strong position and threaten the

discriminating countries with suspension or expulsion.

If the IOC is pressed to live up to its own standards,

the London Games in 2012 should witness the celebration

of female Olympians from Saudi Arabia , Qatar , the

United Arab Emirates, Iran and other Muslim countries.

Ali Al-Ahmed is the director of the Institute for Gulf

Affairs in Washington .

International Herald Tribune Copyright © 2008 |

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