Two Saudi women have established a women’s soccer and basketball team in the port city of Jeddah in a bid to persuade the government to allow and support women’s right to engage in competitive sports in a country that officially bans women from competitive sports. In a rare airing of debate on the issue, soccer team captain Rima Abdallah and basketball player Hadir Sadqa appeared on a Saudi television sports program risking a confrontation with authorities that severely curtail women’s rights, according to a transcript of the program released by Washington-based Middle East Research Institute (MEMRI).Their battle highlights the soccer pitch as a battlefield for women’s rights across the Middle East and North Africa, a part of the world where resistance to gender equality and women’s exertions in sports is deeply rooted. Women soccer players confront the toughest obstacles in Saudi Arabia, ruled by one of Islam’s most puritanical sects. Physical education classes are banned in state-run Saudi girl’s schools and female athletes are not allowed to participate in the Olympics. Women's games and marathons are often cancelled when the clergy gets wind of them. Some clerics condemn women’s sports as corrupting and satanic and charge that it spreads decadence. They warn that running and jumping can damage a woman's hymen and ruin her chances of getting married. In defiance, women have quietly been established soccer and other sports teams with the backing of more liberal members of the ruling Al Saud family as extensions of hospitals and health clubs. The International Olympic Committee has threatened Saudi Arabia with suspension if it does not create frameworks for women’s sports. Ms. Abdallah suggested that the team’s prospects were limited not only because of government and conservative resistance to the notion of women’s sports but also because of lack of support by world soccer body FIFA. She said FIFA’s failure to recognize the women’s team had reinforced a decision by the Saudi football association to ban them from participating in a women’s soccer tournament last year in neighbouring Bahrain.
Via Cindy Sullivan