Saudi Arabia: Women and soccer!

Football is very popular in Saudi Arabia, amongstmen and women. Two years ago Saudi designer Rania Khoger created a line of colorful abayas to commemorate the world cup.

There are Saudi women’s soccer teams, but they have to practise and play in secret. Women play soccer and basketball in underground leagues around Saudi Arabia
Rawh Abdullah is captain of the all-women soccer club Al Tahaddi, Arabic for challenge. Since 2006, when the club was established, 25 team members meet four times a week to play after turning one of the players’ gardens into a field. The 28-year-old Abdullah, who serves as a coach and the captain on the team, charges each member 1,300 riyals ($350) annual fee to play. The money she gets covers players outfits, balls, makeshift goals, some fitness equipment and partly also trips to the port city of Jeddah or Dammam to play exhibition games or matches in the clandestine women’s league.

There are no written laws that prohibit women from participating in sports, but women are not allowed into stadiums, and they cannot rent athletic venues. There is no physical education for girls in public schools, and no women-only hours at swimming pools. The few gyms that admit women are too expensive for most to frequent.

Women cannot register sports clubs, league competitions and other female-only tournaments with the government. They are banned from entering all-male national trials, which makes it impossible for them to qualify for international competitions, including the Olympics.



35 Responses

  1. I heard about Saudi women will be allowed to participate in Olympic Games of London ? Yes, it’s so sad than we’re not allowed at swimming pool! They could give women one day weekly for ladies only at swimming pool.

  2. The Olympics: Saudi Women Have Done it

    At long last, the ruling Saudi monarchy has realized that Saudi women’s demands for their rights cannot be ignored. It is for this reason that the Saudi regime has made the decision to let women participate in the Olympics Games in London, July 2012.

    However, hanging over what should be a momentous occasion for the Saudi kingdom is a dark cloud of doubt. The Olympics are only 4 weeks away and Saudi women are hardly prepared to compete in most sports, let alone the most competitive athletics event in the world. While Saudi women would likely excel in any competition, they are prevented from practicing sports in their country.

    In addition, it has been revealed that the most likely female competitor in this year’s games, 20-year-old equestrian Dalma Rushdi Malhas, has been disqualified due to late registration. Deviously, the Saudi government was already aware that Ms. Malhas, the only Saudi woman prepared for the games, had been disqualified when it made its announcement.

    With the games just weeks away and little to no chance that another Saudi woman will be able to take the field in London, one cannot help but wonder about the timing of the government’s decision. Is it conceivable that the ruling Saudi elites want to ensure women’s failure at the Olympics so they can justify their discriminatory policies against women? The rulers have long considered women physically, emotionally and mentally incapable of doing more than providing pleasure for males, giving birth and raising “good men.”

    Saudi Arabia has participated in nine Olympic Games since 1972 but has repeatedly violated the standards of the games by barring women from its national team. Yet the Olympics are supposed to be an inclusive event. Officials with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have long said the kingdom’s policy of gender discrimination contradicts the Olympics’ charter, which states “any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on the grounds of race, religion, politics, sex or otherwise is incompatible with … the Olympic Movement.”

    However, the IOC has failed to implement its charter and bar Saudi Arabia from participation in the Olympics as it did with South Africa in 1964 over its refusal to condemn apartheid and include black in its Olympic team.

    After years of watching women from all over the world, including Arab and Muslim women, participating in the Olympics and other global activities, Saudi women are making their voices heard and demands felt in Saudi Arabia and beyond.

    The decision by the Saudi regime to let women participate in the Olympics in London is not altruistic. It’s the result of Saudi women’s irrepressible demands for their legitimate rights and global pressure on the Saudi autocratic and theocratic ruling men.

    Though being allowed to participate in the Olympics is a small victory for the resilient Saudi women, there is a greater victory to be had in the subsequent discourse on Saudi women’s athletic participation which will likely take place inside Saudi Arabia in the coming years.

  3. It’s also interesting to note that the saudis made the decision to let women participate in the London Olympics, very very shortly after the death of Prince Nayef (pbuh). Strange coincidence, eh :)-

  4. I don’t think that Saudi women can participate in the Olympic games. There is no way they can qualify in such a short time. And unless they get the opportunity and possibilities to actually practice sports they will never be able to come up to par with the rest of the world in sports. Sports for girls are forbidden on public schools aren’t they?
    And women’s gyms are breeding grounds for sin aren’t they?
    Without facilities and coaching one cannot compete in the Olympic games.

    And I bet women who would go to the Olympics would get death threats and their families would suffer.
    Or they die of hat mysterious disease which Saudi women always get when they piss off the religious misogynists. Remember the blogger Hadeel? And there was this woman poet who was way too clever and good…
    They have this mysterious disease in Saudi where obnoxious women get ill, fall into a coma, and die, and nobody knows what it is.but the women die.

    There is a clandestine women’s soccer league?
    One up for Saudi women!

  5. Ali, gender apartheid is clearly less important than racial apartheid.

  6. Although Saudi Arabia has lifted the ban on women competing in the London Olympics, I think it’s only paying lip service knowing fully well that it’s women athletes are not olympic-ready. Anyway, it is hardly a sign of progress when it would have only benefitted an American-born, European-trained participant in the most socio-economically elite of Olympic sports (and one that doesn’t show much exposure of body parts except … ?).

    But I am also tired of seeing clearly non-elite athletes (usually from much poorer places than Saudi Arabia) cramming up the start lists in swimming or athletics. There is no point in Saudi Arabia entering a woman who runs a 13s 100 meters in the womens athletics competition.

    Saudi Arabia has the resources to develop facilities, training, and competition opportunities for women throughout its society. A much more meaningful sign of progress than Olympic entry will be when the pools, tracks, football fields and volleyball courts of Saudi Arabia are full of young girls developing their athletic potential.

    I think Saudi Arabia should be disbarred from olympics until it ceases and desists from practicing gender apartheid upon its’ citizens. South Africa is a good example when it was barred from all sports events including the olympics and it led to a relatively quick and swift demise of racial apartheid.

  7. I agree, SA should be banned until they take care of the physical health and equality, and equal opportunities of their female population.
    Saudi Arabia as it stands now does not belong in the Olympic community.

  8. There have been many cases of the IOC not implementing the charter against countries- or delaying doing so. This will be the first Olympics to be broadcast on a widely available network in KSA. I’ve never before been able to watch one there. The general population has no connection to the event. I hope after a couple televised cycles the threat or actual disqualification of the team will mean something to folks. Right now – most would not care.

    Saudi people on the whole are actually more conservative than they used to be and definately more conservative than the current King. But the country is very polarized. Those who had the means to create their own travel opportunities and educational opportunities lead a different life. We now have a couple generations having been raised in the conservative schools and they have had an ENORMOUS amount of children who are also going or have gone through the public schools. The more liberal openminded people have been out numbered even more than they were before.

  9. I really hope Saudi can adapt some strategies that other Muslim nations had… Here in the Emirates many places have women-only hours and activities, even places like WATER PARKS which are incredibly fun and active (and outdoors!). We international girls from my school played in a basketball tournament against local Emirati girls and they were BEASTS (in a good way) – very skilled, very athletic, very intense! We played in a very nice basketball court located at a women-only college.

    Allowing more gender-mixing in sports would be great, but at the very minimum they could expand sports facilities to more women in a segregated environment. I really don’t see how this would be against Islam or Saudi culture, especially with greater awareness of health issues (diabetes, obesity, etc) gradually spreading in the region.

    To be honest even my previous city of Seattle, Washington, USA had women-only hours at the pool once or twice a month for the sake of the local Muslim population… If SEATTLE could do it, I think Saudi Arabia could too!

  10. So Saudi Arabia has lifted the ban on its women competing in the Olympics. I say so what? Rather than celebrate, this is the moment to push the oppressive kingdom much further.

    Free at last, free at last, thank skydaddy, Saudi women are finally free at last to participate in the Olympics. Before praising the last country in the world that banned women from going to the Olympics, here are a few things women still can’t do in Saudi Arabia: travel without a man’s permission, wear shorts to a mall, walk with a male friend in public, drive, or vote for her country’s leader.

    So congratulations to Saudi Arabia, which just zoomed out of the 7th century into the early 8th century in terms of women’s rights. There is so much optimism in the air, it’s hard not to think that in just a few hundred years, the Saudi government might no longer behead women like Amina bint Nasser for being a “witch”. :)-

    Lest we forget, Saudi Arabia’s long-overdue capitulation was due to international pressure, not to any sort of beneficence on the part of unelected, theocratic, gender-apartheid-enforcing geriatric despots. This is further confirmation that Saudi Arabia is not the invincible power unaffected by external pressure that some imagine. It is time, in other words, to turn up the heat.

    Maybe you know this or not, but the Saudis are so brazen that their embassy in Washington, D.C., unabashedly proclaims on its website that “Ladies cannot apply for a transit visa if not accompanied by a male relative.” Imagine — just imagine — if any other embassy explicitly banned blacks, muslims, women, or gays from applying for a visa without a babysitter. That nation would rightly be protested, sanctioned, and disparaged at every possible moment. Instead, the oil-rich Saudi dictatorship mocks our most cherished values and gets billions of our tax dollars (read weapons) in return.

    As the brilliant Soviet dissident scientist Andrei Sakharov once said, “In the end, the moral choice turns out to be also the most pragmatic choice.” So conditioning U.S. arms to Saudi women’s rights is both the moral and pragmatic choice.

    Please write/phone/email your elected representatives to let them know how you feel about this issue!

  11. i agree w/x. why should the saudi government be applauded for eliminating a law that was wrong in the first place? At best, it’s a victory for tokenism, and doing the bare minimum to satisfy a toothless ioc.

    i also agree w/sandy. i repect her opinions a lot since she has lived in saudi for a long time and knows the pulse of saudi society. god bless ya sandy!

    as we well know, the emotional, sexual, and psychological stereotyping of females begins when the doctor says, ‘it’s a girl’. while men are taught to apologize for their weaknesses, women for their strengths. the notion that women should have no say in the public debate, whether in hawaii or in ksa is really antiquated.

    really now, what do we expect from the country whose citizens brought us 9-11? my husband had the misfortune of being posted in ksa for two miserable years during the first gulf war. he said that even western expat women weren’t allowed to lead anything resembling normal lives (e.g, play tennis in their leisure time – of which they had a lot, since they were not permitted to work). And on orders of the grand mufti, trees like spruces were banned from local nurseries for the month leading up to xmas. the kingdom still lives in the dark ages. as long as the outside world needs its oil and gas, ksa will have the luxury of remaining firmly cocooned in the year 600 a.d.

    i was talking to my saudi friend at work over lunch last week. She was being cute and sarcastic at the same time when she said: “glad my sisters are going to at least get the chance to compete in the olympics. covered from head to toe in those damn abayas and nikabs and hijabs, they’re really going to be a real threat in the swimming events and the hurdles”. :)-

    Are Women the Superior Gender? Simple Facts Science Has Revealed By Elizabeth Edwards:

  12. Ali Alyami

  13. Dr Aliyami,

    Thx for sharing these informative videos. And “thank you” to YOU and CDHR for all that you do for freedom of speech and human rights in saudi arabia!!!!


  14. Apartheid seems irrelevant. Some countries are involved in apartheid and they are still in the Olympics. Take for example: (The State of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians has been compared by United Nations investigators, human rights groups and critics of Israeli policy to South Africa’s treatment of non-whites during its apartheid era. Israel has also been accused of committing the crime of apartheid. Source: Wikipedia

    I believe women have sport facilities in Norah University. Also ISTRAHAS where the majority of people in Saudi go to play sport and they can rented by women. Sport centres are rare in Saudi comparing with western countries. So if women want to play sport in Saudi they will be able to do that in what is called ISTRAHAS.

    Excluding Saudi Arabia from the Olympics will not bother the vast majority of the people in Arabia. It will be a good chance for people to have a laugh actually. Olympic is not part of saudi culture or saudi history therefore they value it less.

  15. I agree with the some commentators here that Saudi Arabia needs more sport centres for women. Not only women who need sport centre but also men. With Macdonalds and KFC invading every corner in Arabia people have to do exercise.

  16. With perfect Hijab it can be possible and I’m agree

  17. Heh. I think that the Saudis have managed to con a fair few people with a nice piece of PR swerve here.

    For starters, Ms Malhas cannot compete at the London olympics as she has failed to meet the World Equestrian Federation eligibility criteria for participating – ie she ain’t actually good enough.

    The “official” reason is that her horse is injured, and according to the public statements that I have seen, she had already ruled herself out of the running, as it were. It should be noted that Ms Malhas is not really a Saudi – she’s a Palestinian-American. She did represent Saudi Arabia at the 2010 youth olympics – and it is worth noting that the Saudis would have been banned from that event if they had not selected at least one female representative, and they made a positive, albeit easy, choice in that instance. Ms Malhas doesn’t live in Saudi Arabia, is not dependent on access to Saudi facilities or permissions to pursue her equestrian ambitions, as she lives in the “free” world where there are no gender barriers to competition.

    Now it is theoretically possible for the IoC to give her a wild card allowing her to compete, but this would be an extraordinary move – wild cards are for athletes representing states where, due to civil war or political collapse, there is no operational National Olympic Committee ( eg Somalia, Palestine ). that can organise participation for its athletes.

    So it’s dead easy for Saudi officialdom to say that they’ll allow women to participate when there are no women who can compete due to domestic legal and institutional barriers, and the one potentially plausible representative had already been ruled out.

    PR swerve at its finest.

  18. Snowman, KFC and MacDonalds are also not part of Saudi culture or Saudi history, but they are apparently enthusiastically welcomed, so why not sports for women?

    Sports for women is at least sunnah, Aischa rode horses and shot the bow and arrow.

  19. The Olympics were not part of any country’s culture or history, they were set up very recently in history, but the ideals behind the games do resonate in many peoples hearts, even if not all nations are very good in applying them. A bit of Olympic idealism would greatly enhance the impoverished Saudi culture.
    The Olympic ideals will improve Saudi Arabia a lot more than KFC and Mc Donalds.

  20. If I say ”The Olympics were not part of any country’s culture or history” I mean any country except Greece of course.

  21. snowman, on July 5, 2012 at 3:21 am said: “Apartheid seems irrelevant. Some countries are involved in apartheid and they are still in the Olympics. Take for example: (The State of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians ….”


    There is, of course, more than just one pov on any given issue. Perhaps the most pernicious and intellectually dishonest libel against Israel by its enemies and fellow travelers is that it is an apartheid state along the lines of pre-Mandela South Africa and therefore has no right to exist.

    Nothing could be further from the truth. On its own merits the charge is easily refuted. Like in any other society, there certainly exists DISCRIMINATION within the Israel society against the Palestinians; no one denies that. But it is certainly not APARTHEID for sure!

    Today, within Israel, Jews are a majority, but the Arab minority are full citizens with voting rights and representation in the government. Under apartheid, black South Africans could not vote and were not citizens of the country in which they are the overwhelming majority of the population. Also, Palestinians from the territories are allowed to work in Israel and receive similar pay and benefits to their Jewish counterparts. They are allowed to attend schools and universities. Palestinians have been given opportunities to run many of their own affairs. None of this was true for South African blacks. Now that is not only discrimination but is also apartheid!

    Snowman, here is the “apartheid canard”: Israel cannot accurately be called an apartheid state because Israeli law guarantees Arab citizens of Israel the same rights as other Israeli citizens without distinction of race, creed or sex. Also note that Israel’s Arab citizens can and do run in elections and become ministers in the Israeli government. I consider your analogy defamatory and reflecting a double standard when applied to Israel and not neighboring Arab countries, whose policies towards their own Palestinian minority have been described as discriminatory, and a manifestation of anti-semitism against fellow Arabs.

  22. Good comment, Abe

  23. It’s my understanding that they have full citizenship rights but different “nationality” rights. The two-tier rights system that lets them tell everyone how all citizens are equal.

  24. Abe, do not attempt to make Israel look good about it’s treatment of it’s ‘equal’ Palestinians. They are persecuted every day in so many ways – some are subtle and some not so subtle. Israel is quite wrong in what it’s doing and leading Jewish religious scholars will say that what is happening right now with the taking of lands and the treatment of Palestinians is wrong in the eyes of God, never mind in the eyes of thinking people. I find it sad that people who were persecuted and who should know better now persecute others. But than we do know that the abused often become abusers.

  25. Nasty as Israel may be towards the Palestinians, they do not have an official written line of apartheid, or regard them officially as sub-human, or as property. Guess what the international outcry would be if the Israelis treated the Palestinians the same way as KSA treats all women?!?!?

  26. Re: Apartheid

    I wasn’t talking about the history of who’s done what to who and when and how. I was simply explaining to Snowman (in response to his assertion/allegation), the difference between discrimination and apartheid.

    Israel doesn’t fit the definition of “apartheid”. “Discrimination” yes. But definitely not “Apartheid”.

  27. Key word … official.

  28. Abe, where did you get this piece of drivel? I loved the one showing all the smiling Africans in Isreal? Are they still smiling as they are sent back to S. Sudan and other hot spots?
    There is blatant apartheid and much more subtle apartheid. Both are wrong and sometimes the subtle apartheid is the worst.
    Anyway you could put many names on what Israel is doing. Thieving. Discriminating. Lying. Murdering. Undermining. Dehumanizing. Coercing.Subjugating. Those are a few that come to mind.

  29. The Palestinians officially have different “nationality” status which effects water rights,building rights and all sorts of things how ever equal their “citizenship rights” may be.

    But wrong is wrong whoever does it. I certainly don’t mean to defend any of it- and until I walk a mile in anothers shoes I don’t know which is worse. I wish everyone would behave.

  30. the water rights are really nasty. Yes, thinking about that I am thinking they should ban Israel also from the games.

  31. I just took my girls to the water park here in Dammam, Saudi Arabia a couple of weeks ago. It’s called Water Island and they just recently opened. They have 2 days (not hours) out the week for WOMEN ONLY. Then they have a couple of family days and days for shabab.
    Also the club right next door to it has a womens’ pool. There are lots of inexpensive clubs for women to join or just pay by the day, mostly for exercise, all types of exercise classes. Spinning, aerobics, zumba, etc.

  32. Abe, no one is arguing that Israel discriminates against Israeli citizens of Arab descent, the core question here is Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in the territories it occupies. These Palestinians do not have Israeli citizenship, cannot get one, and you can’t really argue that Israel treats on them on an equal footing with its citizens, even though it occupies the land where they reside.

  33. And institutional discrimination against Arab Israelis exist on many levels, in government support, in education, in employment, in public services etc.

    In 2001, Human Rights Watch described government-run Arab schools as “a world apart from government-run Jewish schools.”[219] The report found striking differences in virtually every aspect of the education system.[220][221]

    In 2005, the Follow-Up Committee for Arab Education said that the Israeli government spent an average of $192 a year on Arab students compared to $1,100 for Jewish students. The drop-out rate for Arabs was twice as high as for Jews (12 percent versus 6 percent). There was a 5,000-classroom shortage in the Arab sector.[222]

    According to the 2004 U.S. State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Israel and the occupied territories, “Israeli Arabs were underrepresented in the student bodies and faculties of most universities and in higher professional and business ranks. Well educated Arabs often were unable to find jobs commensurate with their level of education. According to Sikkuy, Arab citizens held approximately 60 to 70 of the country’s 5,000 university faculty positions.”[172]

    Arab educators have long voiced concerns over institutionalized budgetary discrimination. An August 2009 study published by the Hebrew University’s School of Education claimed that Israel’s Education Ministry discriminated against Arabs in its allocations of special assistance for students from low socioeconomic backgrounds and the average per-student allocation at Arab junior high schools was one-fifth the average at Jewish ones. This was due to the allocation method: funds were first divided between Arab and Jewish school systems according to the number of students in each, and then allocated to needy students; however, due to the large proportion of such students in the Arab sector, they receive less funds, per student, than Jewish students. The Ministry of Education said it was discontinuing this method in favor of a uniform index.[223] Ministry data on the percentage of high school students who passed their matriculation exams showed that Arab towns were ranked lowest except for Fureidis, which had the third highest pass rate (75.86 percent) in Israel.[223]

    Please don’t use so much paste/copy

  34. This is great news to hear about the water park in Damman and sounds like a broad choice of activities!

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