London Olympics Offer Hope for Gender EquityJuly 09, 2012
The 2012 Summer Olympics will mark monumental progress for gender equality around the world. The games could be the first in Olympic history at which all participating countries field teams made up of both men and women. Until this year, Brunei, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia have never included women on their Olympic teams. Brunei and Qatar are on track to send women to London later this month, but Saudi Arabia has yet to name any female athletes who will represent the kingdom.
Saudi Arabia vowed to give in to pressure from the International Olympic Committee and allow women to compete at this summer’s Olympic Games. But the country’s potential qualifier, show jumper Dalma Rushdi Malhas, is unfortunately unable to go to London because of an injury to her horse. With Malhas out of the running, there are very few other hopefuls due to the limited opportunities for women in Saudi Arabia. Women are not allowed to play sports, join national athletic federations, rent athletic venues, or enter stadiums. In 2009, the government shut down women’s gyms, and girls now have no access to physical education in public schools.
If they fail to send a female athlete, it seems that Saudi Arabia’s small step in the direction of gender equality may be nothing more than a symbolic gesture. Many are claiming that the country’s leaders are only making the effort so that their teams are not completely banned from the games. Regardless of who ends up standing on the field on July 27 for the opening ceremony, Saudi women will use this small step forward to their advantage. They are already making an effort to change policies to allow women to participate in sports in school and to establish athletic associations.
The games will also close the loop on another important issue for women in sports. With the addition of women’s boxing, the London Olympics will mark the first time that women will compete in all 26 medal sports. While this is a huge step for gender equality in athletics, there is still room for progress. The quadrennial event is a unique opportunity for women’s and men’s sports to draw equal attention and to set an example for young athletes around the world.