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Runner Mohammed Salman H. Al-Khuwaildi of Saudi Arabia carries his country's flag during the Opening Ceremony for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics at the National Stadium on August 8, 2008 in Beijing, China.
Human Rights Watch has called on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to pressure Saudi Arabia to end its discrimination against women in sports by making it a requirement for the country’s participation in the 2012 Olympic Games. Not only is there no governmental infrastructure for women’s sports in Saudi Arabia, but the country does not allow physical education for girls in state schools and makes licenses for women’s gyms difficult to obtain. While some sports facilities are available for women at private clubs or with private sports teams, many Saudi women can’t afford this expense, and obesity and diabetes rates have grown among Saudi women in recent years. In the past, the IOC has criticized Saudi Arabia for its dismissal of women athletes, but never actually banned the country’s participation from IOC events. IOC spokeswoman Sandrine Tonge has said that the IOC “does not give ultimatums nor deadlines.” Only two other countries have never sent a female athlete to the Olympics: Qatar and Brunei. Both of those countries, however, do allow women to play sports and Qatar will be sending women to London in 2012.
Is not allowing women to play sports a human rights issue or abuse? Is using a game like the Olympics as leverage to get a country to change its domestic policy ethical? Is it important enough to be effective?
Christoph Wilcke, senior researcher for the Middle-East North Africa Division of Human Rights Watch; author of the report, 'Steps of the Devil': Denial of Women and Girls' Right to Sport in Saudi Arabia."
Minky Worden, director of global initiatives, Human Rights Watch; spearheads HRW's efforts to align human rights more closely with the Olympic Movement
Karen North, director of the online communities program at USC’s Annenberg school of Communications and Journalism