Sara Attar, Sprinter  

Wodijan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani, Judoka

Maziah Mahusin, Athlete

Nada Arkaji, Swimmer,

Bahiya Al-Hamad, Shooter

Aya Magdy, Table-Tennis Player

There is no reason why you would have heard of these names. They are of course, not big sport-stars. Forget about that, not even many of their fellow-athletes would be able to recognize them.  But these six women are already icons in the sporting world.

They are going to be the first women Olympians of their respective nations.

Sara and Wodijan hail from Saudi Arabia, Maziah is from Brunei and Nada, Bahia and Aya are from Qatar.

So far, no woman from these countries has participated in Olympics. Earlier this year, Qatar and Brunei had agreed to include women in their squad and finally, the conservative Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has also finally followed the suit.

The move comes in as a result of warning from International Olympic Committee’s Women and Sports Commission. In June 2010, 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.

Sara hails from Saudi Arabia and she will be running 800 Apart from Sara Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani will compete in judo’s +78kg category.  Maziah and Noor Al Malki are participating in Athletics; Aya Magdy will play in Table Tennis while Bahiya will try to win a medal in Rifle Shooting.

Bahiya, who has got a wild card entry in Olympics, will also carry her country’s flag at the Opening Ceremony on 27th July.

By giving this honour to the 19 year old shooter, Qatar has taken another step forward in becoming the reagion’s sporting power. The oil-rich country, that won the rights to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, has thus played a key role in encouraging participation of women in sports. It will set an example in front of conservative Muslim communities around the world, especially it’s neighbours like Saudi Arabia.

Although there is no formal ruling barring women’s participation, the Kingdom of strongly discourages women’s participation in Sports. The country still does not allocate some of the basic rights to Women- like travelling alone or driving a car. 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, Muslim world, is slowly opening its doors for women to enter the World Arena.  Sports can really be the platform that women in the closed socities require.

In 1980s, The IOC started serious work to promote women’s participation in sports. This development has been further reinforced by the IOC’s decision that all sports seeking inclusion in the programme must include women’s events. In 2007, an amendment was made to its charter saying “The IOC encourages and supports the promotion of women in sport at all levels and in all structures, with a view to implementing the principle of equality of men and women.”

The efforts are being made to make the Olympics more inclusive and results are in front of us.

The number of women competing has grown from 11.5 percent of athletes in the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome to 23 percent in 1984 in Los Angeles to 38 percent in 2000 in Sydney and then to a record 42 percent in the 2008 Beijing Games. The figures could go higher in London, as for the first time, Women’s Boxing is included.

In Bejing only three countries had sent all-men squads. And London Olympic will be the first games where every nation will have a woman representative.

Thus, the goal of gender equity accepted by IOC’s charter seems to be within the reach.

– Janhavee