Saudi women push for the right to play sports
By Asma Alsharif
JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) - The image of 24-year-old Nour Fitiany resting courtside as the pounding of basketballs and thumping of feet reverberated around her wouldn't merit a second glance in most countries.
But in Saudi Arabia, where girls are banned from sports in state schools, powerful clerics castigate women for exercising and female gyms must adhere to strict regulations, Fitiany's ambition to play basketball - let alone represent her country in international tournaments - is a bold political statement.
"I hope that when they see that there are girls who really want to play, and who do play regardless of the obstacles that lie in their path, they realise that they have to do something," she said, dressed in a baby blue t-shirt and grey jogging pants, spinning a basketball on her index finger.
Female participation in sports has long been a controversial issue in the conservative Islamic kingdom, which on February 15 was lambasted by Human Rights Watch for never having sent a woman athlete to the Olympics.
The stance of the official Supreme Council of Religious Scholars is represented by Sheikh Abdullah al-Maneea, who said in 2009 that the excessive "movement and jumping" needed in football and basketball might cause girls to tear their hymens and lose their virginity.
After King Abdullah moved last year to bring women into the country's political process, however, there have been some signs authorities may allow sportswomen to compete internationally and make it easier for girls to exercise.
The HRW report said the National Olympic committee had "indicated" it would not stop women athletes taking part in the Games if they were invited, and speculation has been rife that the government will send equestrian Dalma Malhas to compete in this years Olympics in London.
The Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority told Reuters earlier this year there are plans to introduce after-hours physical education classes for both girls and boys. Continued...