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In Saudi Arabia, girls and women are shut out of competitive sports, according to a just-released report by Human Rights Watch. There are no national teams for women, and physical education for girls does not exist in state schools (although it does in private schools). Fitness clubs open to women are few and costly. Many of the swimming pools and running tracks that did exist for women were closed by the government in 2009 for being unlicensed, leaving women to search out gyms operating under the radar or to exercise at home.
Saudi Arabia is one of only three countries that share the abysmal distinction of never having sent a female athlete to the Olympics. However, the other two countries, Brunei and Qatar, have sent women to other international events, and Qatar officials say they hope to send women to the Olympics this year. A female Saudi equestrian earned a bronze medal in the 2010 Singapore Youth Olympic Games, although she did not receive Saudi sponsorship.
The Saudi policy has come under fire, not just on equal rights grounds but for health reasons as well. Studies show the obesity and diabetes rates have risen among Saudi women and girls. Even the government appears to grasp that; a deputy minister for girls’ education said recently that physical education for girls “is under serious consideration” as a priority for reasons of health.
For more, visit the LATimes.