Christian Science Monitor has an article on covert women’s athletics in Saudi Arabia. When senior religious scholars decry women’s sports as a ‘great corrupting influence’, they cannot just be ignored. Or, they can, but at great peril. Instead, some Saudi women have taken it upon themselves to develop their own sports teams and leagues, barring men from every aspect of it in order to preclude arrest and shame from ‘mingling’ the sexes.

Saudi women are playing basketball and soccer competitively, but completely in secret. They understand the value of athletics to a healthy physical and mental life and will not accept the judgment of men whom they believe detached from reality, at least when it comes to women and their behavior. The women are living within their culture, though, so they have to be careful about transgressing social rules. If they become too public, they face public shaming, as do their fathers, brothers, and uncles. That’s a steep price to pay and they do not wish to pay it. Instead, they have to play sub rosa. And they do.

Saudi girls find freedom in cleats
A high-energy evening soccer game between two girls’ teams is part of a growing female sports movement in conservative Saudi Arabia
Christa Case Bryant

As the evening call to prayer rings out across Riyadh, a pack of teenage girls eating cotton candy and popsicles erupt in cheers, drowning out the muezzin.

Their favorite soccer team has just scored.

“Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!” they shout in English, jumping up and down for the yellow-clad Challenge team, long black curls flying. “Chall-ENNNNNNNNNge!!!”

The victory is larger than one goal, however: The college students facing off in tonight’s tournament are female, a rarity in this male-dominated society where women have traditionally been kept in the background.

These girls – among them aspiring surgeons, lawyers, and investment bankers – are part of a small but growing group challenging this society’s strictures on the distaff side.

While they are still forced to practice and play largely in secret – no males, not even fathers, can attend their games – the trend is part of the growing momentum for women’s rights here. It is cultivating their ability to excel not only on the field but in school, society, and the workplace – and fostering the kind of teamwork needed if this country is to develop stronger institutions.


June:02:2012 - 09:12 | Comments & Trackbacks (6) | Permalink
6 Responses to “Secret Sports”
  1. 1
    Saudi Jawa Said:
    June:02:2012 - 19:39 

    I’m not sure secret is the right word. Definitely not public but not exactly hidden. For instance, the privately owned (and notoriously liberal) Effat College has a well known sports program for girls.

  2. 2
    Solomon2 Said:
    June:02:2012 - 22:54 

    “Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!” they shout in English, jumping up and down for the yellow-clad Challenge team, long black curls flying. “Chall-ENNNNNNNNNge!!!”

    Sparky! This is all your fault!

  3. 3
    Sandy Said:
    June:04:2012 - 03:36 

    Not so secret in Jeddah. There is organized women’s basketball that is pretty well known. Effat is in Jeddah also- maybe in Riyadh it’s different. Also, Effat has attained University status now. And graduated the first women engineers in the kingdom……Go EFFAT- but I digress….

  4. 4
    William chu Said:
    June:07:2012 - 16:49 

    Whatever happens in Saudi Arabia, is their problem, we should leave them alone, and concentrate on issues in our backyard.

    If they dont want to change, it is their loss, not our s

  5. 5
    John Burgess Said:
    June:07:2012 - 17:19 

    William, welcome.

    Yes, what happens in Saudi Arabia is certainly a Saudi problem. When Saudi problems bleed outside the border and affect other people, then it’s more than a Saudi problem.

    The country has to make difficult choices. There is nothing improper in suggesting which ones might be better.

  6. 6
    Abu Mariam al-Jiddawiyya al-Britaniyya Said:
    June:07:2012 - 17:56 

    Misleading and patronising!

    Saudi women, like women everywhere, should be encouraged to do more sport (like many men too!)

    The issue is free-mixing and that is what is the hidden agenda here hence the deliberate blurring of issues.

    Scholars say freemixing: No

    As for sport for women being a negative, I for one would vehemnetly take opposition wioth any scholar on that front. Part of the egalitarianism of Islam is that we have no ayatullah nor a pope nor archbishop. Anyone with the knowledge and evidence to back it has a voice. Democracy? No. Democratic? Thank God, yes.

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