Olympic Embarrassment
Saudi Arabia's Olympic team has no women.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

"THE PRACTICE of sport is a human right." So proudly affirms the International Olympic Committee in Principle 4 of the "Fundamental Principles of Olympism." "Every individual must have the possibility of practising sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit." And Principle 5 makes explicit that discrimination based on gender "is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement." So what is an all-male Saudi team doing in Beijing?

" It's not as if there are no women from majority-Muslim countries competing in the Beijing Games. As Mona Eltahawy pointed out in an opinion piece last week, Algeria, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have women on their teams. In fact, Bahrain and the UAE even allowed women to carry their national flags. So the problem is not Islam but clerics and weak-willed potentates who would twist the Koran to stunt the skills and abilities of women who would love to compete against the world's best athletes. Brunei is the other Muslim country that does not allow women to play sports.

The IOC talks a good game about wanting women to participate in sports and compete in the Olympics. Its Web site has multiple tabs championing women in sports. But Ms. Eltahawy was right about how the IOC could show that it means what it says. "If Saudi Arabia won't put women on the team," she wrote, "then tell them not to bother showing up at the London Olympics in 2012." We agree. If the IOC develops a backbone and puts some power behind its lofty words, it will do just that.

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