By Laura Bashraheel
JEDDAH – The announcement that the Kingdom will not prevent its female citizens from competing in the Olympics, but will not officially endorse them has evoked mixed reaction from Saudi women.
Prince Nawaf Bin Faisal, head of the Saudi Olympics Committee and President of the General Presidency of Youth Welfare, said at a press conference Wednesday that Saudi Arabia will not officially send women athletes to the London Olympics this summer.
He, however, said that Saudi women taking part on their own are free to do so and the Kingdom’s Olympic authority would “only help in ensuring that their participation does not violate the Shariah law.”
Welcoming the decision, Razan Baker, a sports journalist and a PhD researcher, said it would slowly open the door for society to accept women participation in sports.
Baker feels that it’s a starting point and a good step to encourage the youth studying abroad to train with their universities under the supervision of professionals.
“We need serious actions to develop physical activity at women schools and create jobs for them at the Saudi Olympics Committee to prepare a professional national women team,” she added.
Lina AlMaeena, Co-Founder of Jeddah United Sports Company and the captain of Jeddah United women’s basketball team, said that there is a need to first develop basic sports infrastructure and facilities before debating women participation in the Olympics.
“The Olympics is a huge global event and we don’t have physical education in schools to start with,” she added.
However, AlMaeena is optimistic about the future of physical education for women in Saudi Arabia. “Physical education for women has become a topic of national debate whether in the Shoura Council or the Ministry of Education. It’s just a matter of time when things will change for women’s sports,” she added.
Prince Nawaf acknowledged that there was a growing demand for sports among Saudi women.
“There are now hundreds or thousands who practice sports but in a private way and without any relationship to the General Presidency of Youth Welfare,” he said.
Hana AL-Alwani, a sports journalist, considers Prince Nawaf’s decision a wise move and a small step forward for women’s sports.
She said that its a positive step for Saudi women athletes with international committees to participate since there is no official committee for women participation in Saudi Arabia that would send and support them.
Equestrian jumping contestant Dalma Malhas won a bronze medal at the 2010 Singapore Youth Olympics without having been nominated by her country, following an invitation from the International Olympic Committee (IOC). She is likely to be Saudi Arabia’s only female athlete at this summer’s Olympics, according to media reports.