Saudi Olympics move 'an important step forward'
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The announcement by Saudi Arabia that it will allow women athletes to compete in the Olympics in London for the first time is an important step forward, Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday.
But the US-based group added that it "fails to address the fundamental barriers to women playing sports in the kingdom".
With four weeks until the start of the Olympics, the Saudi Embassy in London said that the country’s National Olympic Committee will “oversee participation of women athletes who can qualify.”
Millions of girls are banned from playing sports in schools, and women are prohibited from playing team sports and denied access to sports facilities, including gyms and swimming pools, it said.
“It is only right that the Saudi government should play by the Olympic rules,” said Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch.
“But an eleventh hour change of course to avoid a ban does not alter the dismal and unequal conditions for women and girls in Saudi Arabia.”
Worden added: “The fact that so few women are ‘qualified’ to compete at the Olympic level is due entirely to the country’s restrictions on women’s rights.
“There is only one way to reverse this course, and that is to allow sports in schools, gyms for women, and to add women to the Saudi National Olympic Committee immediately.”
Human Rights Watch claimed Saudi Arabia has one of the world’s worst records on women’s rights.
Male guardianship and gender segregation restrict women’s freedom to leave their homes, seek medical care, participate in public life, drive, and go to government offices and to courts, it said.
“The International Olympic Committee and the international sporting community cannot become complacent because one or two Saudi women are allowed to compete in the London Olympics,” said Worden.
“They should work tirelessly to ensure the millions of Saudi women and girls who want to participate in sports and public life are not denied the chance to do so.”