Winds of change are sweeping Arab world and Sports are not exception.

         Yesterday, I got across an interesting development. Saudi Arabia is likely to include women in their squad for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. The move comes in as a result of warning from International Olympic Committee’s Women and Sports Commission.

  In June last year, Anita DeFrantz, the chair of the Commission, had notified Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei to include female athletes or face a ban in 2012 Games.  Qatar has agreed to it and that had put pressure on Saudi Arabia to follow the suit. The country is likely to field a female equestrian team in London next year.

  So far, Saudi Arabia has never sent a woman to the Olympics. Although there is no formal ruling barring women’s participation, the Kingdom strongly discourages women’s participation in Sports. 

In light of this, activists have welcomed the move, as it’ll set an example in front of conservative Muslim communities around the world.

Recently, Saudi Arabia is going through a wave of change, may be as a side effect of revolution in the neighbourhood. In September, King Abdullah passed a verdict allowing women’s participation in politics. Women will be allowed to vote and run as candidates in municipal elections in 2015. He has also assured appointment of women to the Shura – the consultative body under monarchy.

Within a few days after his promise to protect women’s right, King faced an embarrassing situation. A woman in Jeddah was sentenced to ten lashes by whip for driving a car. King had to overturn the sentence.

The country still does not allocate some of the basic rights to Women. The situation is changing, yet slowly and it will take time to see mass participation of Saudi women at international sports events.

It must be noted that Islam doesn’t forbid women from sports. But women find it difficult to participate, because of rules prescribed by Sharia (like dress-code)

People have found a solution to this problem by launching Women’s Islamic Games. The international multi-sport event, started in 1993, is organised by the Islamic Federation of Women’s Sport (IFWS) every four years in Iran. Muslim women of all nationalities are encouraged to take part in the Games; of course, they have to wear headgears and specific clothing. Since the introduction of WIG, the number of women taking up international sports in Islamic countries has increased.

In and all, women’s sports have found its way even in the most conservative of societies. And now, Saudi Arabia,  is slowly opening its doors for women to enter the World Arena.

It’s too early to predict anything, but I’d like to believe that sports bring a positive social change for women around the world, particularly in Islamic countries.

– Janhavee Moole