Saturday, July 10, 2010

The only running Saudi women do is at malls and airports

Here’s another message from our guardians in the West for the “We Know What’s Best For Saudi Arabia Although We’ve Never Been There” file: Ban Saudi Arabia from the 2012 Olympics unless women are permitted to compete.

It seems that Anita DeFrantz, a former US Olympic rowing bronze medalist and chairwoman of the International Olympic Committee’s Women and Sports Commission, is getting impatient because Saudi Arabia fails to send women to the Olympics. She’s singled out Saudi Arabia as a country that should be banned from the 2012 Olympics in London if the Kingdom doesn’t comply with her demands.

Already the IOC has browbeaten Yemen, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and the tiny, helpless Brunei into sending women to the Olympics. At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, ladies participated and nobody paid any attention to them. The 78th-ranked Waseelah Saad of Yemen failed to advance. The UAE’s Maitha Al-Maktou made it to the quarter-finals in Taekwondo, but she failed to advance further. I suspect that these young women trained night and day to qualify to compete and I commend their tenacity.

But Saudi women? The pampered princesses of the Arabian Gulf? My idea of physical exertion is trying shoes on all day and then waiting impatiently inside the air-conditioned mall for my driver to take me home.

Let’s consider the events available to Saudi women. There’s track and field, but our only training is running between airport terminals at Charles de Gaulle. Not to mention we have about as much grace as a galloping camel. Has anyone ever seen a Saudi woman swim? Me neither. Besides, burqinis and floaties will only slow us down. And Saudi conservatives would never allow us to compete in the breaststroke for obvious reasons.

We might have a chance in Taekwondo. With a little training, the lady who beat up the member of the Commission for the Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue some weeks ago might earn a medal.

Saudi women will be a serious threat in shooting competition. The ladies from Buraidah in Qassim and the villages along the Saudi Arabia-Yemen are handy with guns. They’re gold medalists in the making. The only problem is that any Olympics shooting training facility will be mistaken for an Al-Qaeda training camp and a likely target for a NATO drone attack.

Equestrian riding is our best bet, and it’s here that I agree with Anita DeFrantz, the Saudi woman’s BFF. Nobody is more talented in handling an Arabian horse than a Saudi woman.

Certainly Saudi women should be permitted to participate in the Olympic Games to face humiliation like anyone else or revel in the glory of triumph. There is no good reason why Saudi woman should not participate. The people who deny them this right should be publicly shamed. There are plenty of events available to Saudi women that even the most conservative Saudi would deem inoffensive to our moral and religious values. I'm pretty sure, though, the day will come when Saudi women participate in the Olympics. It will happen when Saudis are ready to have it happen. Not according to DeFrantz's timetable.

But I’m not sure who appointed DeFrantz the Saudi woman’s advocate. We have plenty of Saudi and non-Saudi women claiming that title and few Saudi women have paid attention to them. What makes DeFrantz so different? Well, for one she wields influence in the IOC. She has the power to punish Saudi male athletes who have nothing to do with government policy. I wonder why people in positions of power are so desperate to marginalize a group or country that refuses to conform to their definition of equal rights. Saudi women are indeed denied the rights given to them in Islam, but who appointed DeFrantz to stand up for them? Threatening to derail the sports careers of Saudi male athletes will do nothing but enrage Saudi women.

At a recent news conference, DeFrantz said of Saudi Arabia’s refusal to send women to the Olympics: "We keep asking them why not, why not. We've been very specific about the importance of having women take part in the Olympic movement in all the national Olympic committees of the world."

So who is this important to? Saudi Arabia? Obviously not. Saudi women? Perhaps, but nobody has bothered to ask them. It’s important to DeFrantz and the IOC. It’s a noble thing that part of the IOC’s mission statement is to work against discrimination affecting the Olympics. But while the IOC does its best to eliminate discrimination, it may be violating its other commitment to oppose any political or commercial abuse of sport and athletes. Denying Saudi male athletes the right to participate in the Olympics is political abuse as far as I’m concerned. And perhaps DeFrantz should allow Saudi women to define what discrimination is.


bizman said...

This is called discrimination in the name of indiscrimination

Anonymous said...

Superb refreshing & cheerful summer article , but Olymics is not yet on top priority agenda for Saudi women even Arab women other than couples from North African Arab countries . To ban Saudi Arabia is ridiculous move just to get attention & support from biased Western media as part of campaign " anti Arabs & Islam " .
best regards Ramzi

Splitting Image said...

Excellent essay. I suppose there are worse things in the world than the Olympics committee, but I get really weary of the way the Olympics portrays itself as a Great Coming Together of Humanity Through Athletics.

Speaking of the lady who beat up the virtue cop, do you happen to know what happened to her? The original article got carried by quite a few news outlets, but I never saw any follow-up about the story. I heard the police in the area were preparing a statement, and some women interviewed about it were concerned she would be arrested, but that was it.

Nikhilesh said...

I guess DeFrantz would respond with the affirmative action argument (something along the line of the only way to get change is to force it).

A ban, or the threat of a ban, is the only way the IOC can exert real influence on a nation that is discriminating. Regardless of who is calling for the threat of a ban to encourage Saudi women in the Olympics, if it results in a Saudi woman participating willingly when she otherwise couldn't have, then I'm for it.

Anonymous said...

الله يرضى عليك

for this excellent piece. It goes to show that you "don't mess with an Arab gal!!!"

Chiara said...

Excellent post! I have linked it in one I did on the FIFA Women's U-20 World Cup and the issue of organized women's sport, fitness and competition. I hope you will read it and comment if you get a chance.

The Burdened Mary said...

I just found this blog and this article made me laugh out loud. You are an entertaining and informative writer, I'm so glad I found this!
I believe that change cannot come from people who have no idea what the situation is here. It has to come from within Saudi Arabia itself. I feel sorry for those men who work really hard for a dream and cannot have it be fulfilled.
No one should be the spokesperson for Saudi women besides the Saudi women themselves. I hope that if THEY ever want to join the Olympics that they will find a voice to fight for it in due time.