The Saudi sports minister and head of the Saudi National Olympic Committee confirmed on April 4, 2012, that Saudi Arabia will not support women in practicing sports. Prince Nawwaf al-Faisal said: “Female sports activity has not existed [in the kingdom] and there is no move thereto in this regard.”
“At present, we are not embracing any female Saudi participation in the Olympics or other international championships,” Prince Nawwaf continued.
“If the International Olympic Committee was looking for an official affirmation of Saudi discrimination against women in sports, the minister in charge just gave it,” said Christoph Wilcke, senior Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch. “It is impossible to square Saudi discrimination against women with the noble values of the Olympic Charter.”
Speaking at a press conference in Jeddah that concluded a meeting of Arab youth and sports ministers, the prince claimed that the demand for women’s participation in the Olympics and other international championships came from Saudi women living abroad, and that his organizations would not officially support that demand, but would instead cooperate with those women to ensure their participation “occurred in the appropriate framework and comported with Islamic law.” The prince said he was in constant contact with the Saudi mufti and religious scholars to insure nothing “infringed upon the Muslim woman.”
In a February report, “’Steps of the Devil’: Denial of Women’s and Girls’ Rights to Sport in Saudi Arabia,” Human Rights Watch documented the systematic discrimination against women in sports in Saudi Arabia, including their exclusion from the 153 sports clubs regulated by Nawwaf’s ministry, the Saudi National Olympic Committee (NOC), and the 29 national sporting federations, which are also overseen by Nawwaf in his capacity as head of the NOC.
Human Rights Watch urged the IOC to put Saudi discrimination against women in sport on the agenda of its next executive board meeting in Quebec on May 23.
“The time is running out for hope that dialogue with Saudi authorities will lead to a change in discriminatory policies,” Wilcke said. “It is clear that a symbolic participation in the London 2012 games by Saudi women athletes does not mean an end to the systematic discrimination against women practicing sports in Saudi Arabia and in international competitions.”