Women and sports is a volatile combination in Saudi Arabia. Many see sports or athletics of any kind as incompatible with society’s ideal of womanhood. As a result, government tends to pussyfoot around the issue. It says it’s not against women’s taking part in athletics, but doesn’t do much of anything to encourage it, even while noting that active lifestyles are important to the nation’s health. Now, Saudi Gazette reports, the earth groans and starts to deliver. A state school in the Eastern Province city of Al-Khobar has installed basketball hoops and is encouraging girls to get active. Too, the government is ‘forming a committee’ (yes, yet another ‘committee’) to study the issue of formal sports clubs for women.
The Saudi Olympic Committee make itself a laughing stock when it said it would permit Saudi women to take part in this year’s Summer Olympics in London, but then said that it wouldn’t support them at all. Whatever women wanted to participate would have to pay their own way and would get no support once in London.
Arguments against women’s participation in sports are vague and chaotic. Even in the face of issues of fairness or health or national economy, society just doesn’t see that women are equal to men. They instead seek ways to define women as categorically different and insist on putting them on a pedestal of social construction. Perhaps something will come of the new committee, perhaps not. That a public school is finally getting around to encouraging activity is likely the better indication that change is coming to Saudi Arabia, even if it moves at a snail’s pace.
RIYADH — The government has set up a ministerial committee to consider allowing and regulating women’s sports clubs, a senior official has said.
Abdullah Al-Zamil from the General Presidency of Youth Welfare, the top Saudi sporting body, was quoted by local media as saying that the committee was formed to end the “chaos” surrounding women’s sports clubs which are unregulated.
“The mission of the committee is focused on building a system for these clubs,” Al-Zamil was reported as saying.
Last week, a public girls’ school in the Eastern Province introduced physical education to its students by installing basketball hoops for them to use at break time.
The school in Al-Khobar thus became the first public school to openly encourage sports for girls.