Saudi women and sport

saudi woman sport

In our modern sedentary world we need to go out and make sure we get our daily dose of sports to keep healthy. We can go to the gym, engage in sports, go walking, or take the bicycle to work instead of the car.

All these options are not open to Saudi women, Women’s gyms are closed by the authorities as quickly as they are opened, as a woman one cannot walk the streets without getting harassed and molested, so many women go to the malls just to do some walking and get some exercise.

When Wodjan Sharkani, the first Saudi judoka to have entered the Olympic games returned home her reception veered from lukewarm to open hostility. She was attacked by the religious with racial slurs and baseless accusations of being a prostitute.
Because when women engage in sports they reveal their private parts (dr Mohammed al Arifi)

Steps of the Devil: Denial of Women and Girls’ Rights to Sport in Saudi Arabia, a devastating report by Human Rights Watch details the profoundly deviant yet tenaciously held religious objections of Saudi clerics to women engaging in sports. Allowing Saudi girls and women to compete would invite them to engage in immodest movement, aberrant clothing, and performances in front of unrelated males that would lead to immorality and desecration of the purity of the Saudi female, influential clerics insist. They argue that vigorous movement is a threat to the health and honour of the “virgin girl,” a profound deterrent in a shame-and-honor-centred culture that places extraordinary value on the intact hymen of an unmarried woman.

Which is of course balderdash. Women need to engage in physical activity and get the sun on their skin to stay healthy just the same as men.
Men and women are the same species.

But, luckily for the Saudi women, change is coming in the opportunity to stay healthy and fit as well. Last month Reuters reported that Saudi Arabia will license women’s sports clubs for the first time. In heavy opposition of the clerics.

Saudi women's soccer team practising at a secret location in Riyad

Saudi women’s soccer team practising at a secret location in Riyad

Saudi Arabia’s official press agency, SPA, reported that private girls’ schools are now allowed to hold sports activities in accordance with the rules of Shariah, or Islamic law. Students must adhere to “decent dress” codes and Saudi women teachers will be given priority in supervising the activities, according to the Education Ministry’s requirements.

It’s about time,” said Aziza Youssef, a professor at King Saud University. “Everything is being held back in Saudi Arabia as far as women’s rights.”

Youssef said she sees the decision to allow sports for girls in private schools as part of package of wider reforms targeting women, but that continued restrictions on sports is a discrimination that negatively impacts women’s health.

Education Ministry spokesman Mohammed al-Dakhini was quoted in SPA saying that the decision to allow girls to play sports in private schools “stems from the teachings of our religion, which allow women such activities in accordance with Shariah.”

The government had previously quietly tolerated physical education in some private schools, but there is no set curriculum.
The decision, which also orders private girls’ schools to provide appropriate places and equipment for sports, is a monumental step that will likely soon affect public schools and universities, which are also gender segregated, Youssef said.

The Saudi government plays a role in private schools, providing text books and directors.


14 Responses

  1. It’s worthy noting that most of the so-called religious clerics decisions in Saudi Arabia are more culturally influenced rather than Islamically. As long as women are practicing and competing out of sight of men, I don’t see why they would have a problem. I guess controlling other people’s lives make them feel more significant somehow. :-/

  2. My girls attend Kingdom school, for nearly 8 years. They swim, play tennis, have soccer matches and tumbling. Last year they started Olympics Day, which involved track and field, soccer matches and basketball. My eldest daughter received 2nd place in her track event, and my youngest received 2 first place medals for soccer and track. She wore them for 2 days straight, and even slept with them on. I hope public schools adapt physical education as the private schools do. These girls are very competitive by nature!!

  3. @kareem, some women do compete in Saudi. There is a women’s league, mostly soccer and basketball. Only women attend, and play in private property. I have to nieces who play in the 18-25 division. We are also seeing a lot of women attend the gym, Pilates and yoga is very popular among Saudi women. There are many dance studios as well, hip hop and ballet being the most popular with the teenagers. I think the main issue should be women competing publicly, because privately it is happening..In the DQ area, females are offered equestrian. As for this women saying women’s gyms are closed as fast as they open, is just not true. I have been at the same gym for 7 years, and new gyms popping up in every residence. I beleive Saudi women still have a long road ahead of them in women’s rights, but I also believe some of the stories I read are little far fetched.

  4. I just joined a beautiful new modern gym here including an Olympic sized swimming pool. Unfortunately for my wife (an avid swimmer) there is nothing of the sort for her. There is supposedly a women’s gym across town but it sounds like a spa (not that I would ever get to see it). I think that they do have exercise equipment to some degree.

    An alternative could be had in international hotels, but the pools are not for swimming laps. In the mens’ gym I noticed very few men stray from the shallow end where they splash and play. Most of the Saudi and other men are non-swimmers or very weak swimmers. So, swimming doesn’t seem to be very important at this time.

  5. @mrmom1012, if you are in Riyadh, try Manahal in the DQ, or the Mesbah Almaway. At Manahel there is a huge pool and tennis quarts for women, and at Mesbah Almawaj there is an Olymic size pool with a gym upstairs, alternating days for males and females. You are allowed access to the racquet ball courts with your partner..I can send you the number?

  6. Sorry, @ mrbob2012..dumb spell check!!

  7. Thanks Norma but I am in Taif and we are behind the big cities in many things. We can buy 4G routers from Mobily and pay for 4G service, but beyond the main Mobily office we are doing good to find a 3G signal. Taif is nice but always behind the rest of KSA cities. I have been hearing “inshallah” fiber optic cable next year since 2010 and that is the way of Taif.

    I’m sure that other readers will benefit from your information on gyms for women. Thank you so much for replying. I know that Carol appreciates it too.

  8. You are most welcomed! I didn’t realize Riyadh was that different from other cities. If you guys ever make it out to Riyadh, e-mail me..would love to invite you both out for dinner. 🙂

  9. Can someone list the places for swimming lessons for children and women in riyadh. I know manahil has it but the lessons are always full.

  10. It’s not tradition that denies women their rights, its the system that impedes women progress and emancipation from man’s domination.

  11. @ ALI Are you saying not Islamic tradition? If so I agree, but some Saudi tribal traditions are much more conservative. I think you can easily see evidence of the spread of the more conservative traditions (although they are in the guise of religion) as they moved across the country. Just look at early photos of Saudi Arabia and the women in them. Saudi ARAMCO photos of village and town life show a different story as do other early photos.
    Yes, people followed Islam as it was practiced most places and based on Quran and hadith traditions. Money and influence from the eastern part of the country helped to spread their tribal traditions. Again look at old photos. The white thobe as a national form of dress for men is recent historically in many places of the Kingdom. I’m not saying this is different than any other style spreading except it is now the formal uniform of the Saudi male.
    I’m sure there have always been women in abaya and niqab, but the old photos show variety in dress among women and many uncovered faces. They also were working carrying food and water home to their families. They got plenty of exercise back then.
    The women today tell my wife that they have always been taught that Allah has forbidden women who are believers from driving. The internet and television have opened their eyes to the fact that this was a tribal tradition and that Muslim women around the world do drive.
    Unless we ourselves are tribal Saudi people we cannot judge their culture. We must admit that it is different but not necessarily better or worse than ours. Every culture is different and if it is not adaptive, it will change in order to continue to exist.

  12. @ mrbob2012,

    I grew up in the Southern Region, (Najran, Asir) and visited the West Coast of the country frequently at an early age. Abayah never existed in most parts of the country and women had more freedom of movement and rights prior to the extremist Saudi/Wahhabi Ikhwan occupation of the land and its resilient people than they do now, in the 21st century.

    Please read Bernard Lewis’s book, What Went Wrong, among others.

    I worked for Aramco at approximately the age of 12 and am familiar with company’s activities, policies and total dedication to please the system and protect it. Aramco was and has always been instrumental in the formation and sustainability of the US-Saudi and the West, in general, relations.

    Read my piece again, click on the links that support my argument and discuss the narrative with informed and historian Saudi men and women including Saad Sowayan. I wish I have time to respond to your legitimate inquiries, one by one.

    Finally, when Islam was established there were no cars, planes, space shuttles, bicycles or lipsticks. If any existed, it would have been in the Quran like the elephant, cow, ants and Sheytan suras.

    Your wife is misinformed by people who have no clue even about their religion. Don’t take this personal, please.


  13. That’s great girls and women can undertake sports in private places… Then what happens for women and girls who are in poorer situations?

    I don’t know what to say anymore except I can only vouch for any Saudi women who are reading this blog : please undertake the physical activity that you love for life:

    As you can see, I bike everywhere…to work, to go shopping and to get around. Work towards women’s right to her own good health to the freedom that you can only dream of right now. Because then your spirit will be freer.

  14. I would love to see the old pictures of Saudi ! Can someone give me a link ? Thanks in advance

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