I’ve watched the Olympics for years. Yes, they’re as hyped as any professional sporting event. Of course there are disparities in training between countries. Naturally, there will always be questions of doping or enhancement or – in swimming races – the fabric covering the athlete’s body.
Still, the Olympics give us all a chance to observe skill and grace, the poetry of the human body in motion, as well as people from nations around the world getting along. For the space of weeks, for these particular athletes, sport takes precedence over national origin as well as other disagreements.
Unless you’re athletically skilled, female, and Saudi.
If you tick all three boxes, you don’t get to go to the Olympics.
The 2012 Summer Olympics in London and its suburbs was supposed to be the first-ever session to see every nation field at least some female athletes. Everyone else has cooperated, even Qatar and Brunei. But, as this London Telegraph article makes clear, Saudi Arabia is not.
If a Saudi woman wants to compete, she must appeal as an individual, essentially using the five rings of the official Olympic flag as her sponsoring “nation”. She will not, it appears, be sponsored in any way by her homeland. “The [IOC] meeting on Thursday was supposed to represent the final deadline for Saudi Arabia to agree to women being part of their London delegation or they would be in breach of the IOC’s charter,” Magnay reports.
Sanctions against the Saudis should have been applied by the IOC. They were not.
From the article: “Saudi Arabia is the last hold-out denying women and girls the ability to take part in sports,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The Saudi government’s position should trigger serious scrutiny by the Olympic family. The dismal and unequal conditions for women and girls who seek to practice sports in Saudi Arabia need to change now.”
Clearly, the inability to participate in the Olympics is not on a par with FGM (female genital mutilation), so commonly practiced in Arab countries. Yet both stem from the same root, the same fears, and are related to the attempts in the US to restrict and eliminate legal abortion. The dominant group (males) seeks power over the non-dominant group (females), and is willing to go to extraordinary lengths to achieve that.
Including thumbing its nose at the IOC and the rest of the world’s nations, who are all presenting at least a few female athletes.
Saudi Arabia must be sanctioned. There is no logical reason for letting its athletes compete only if they possess X and Y chromosomes, while those athletes’ equally talented sisters must stay home.