The Olympic triumph of Saudi Arabian women

In Saudi Arabia the Olympics usually does not get much attention. The Games comes and goes every four years without even registering with most Saudis. The only sport that Saudis are passionate about is football. On the world stage, it’s the World Cup that makes them sit up and pay attention. It does not help that local media give the Olympics the bare minimum coverage.

 Saudis did not seem to mind until this year when at the last minute and after much resistance, the Saudi Olympic Committee relented and allowed women to join its delegation. The committee had resisted on conservative grounds and also because it’s not an easy task to find Saudi women athletes. Click here to read on.



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24 responses to “The Olympic triumph of Saudi Arabian women

  1. dean

    Yawn more bullshit from Eman Al Nafjan, many saudis (men and women) are actually supportive and proud of saudi women participating in olympics but Eman doesn’t talk about that instead she focuses on a few twitter comments by individuals to make it seem like all saudis are against this. I guess that’s the only way you can become a writer for the guardian is if you write how backwards saudi arabia is. You don’t speak for all Saudis and frankly you’re a poor excuse for a journalist.

    • I. Admire Saudiwoman and her efforts to drag Saudi Arabia into the 21st Century ” At any Cost ” I Believe Saudi efforts at Societal Reform should include both Orthodox and Secular venue`s; But I. Believe both the Monarchy and Free Enterprise Private Ownership are a thing of the Past.
      Olympic emphasis on Inter-National Participation and Patriotism aside; I. liked the Old Amateur Ethic Games better ~

  2. Indiano

    Whatever be the reasons and myself being a non-saudi, i am proud of this moment. there are more hurdles on the way and one has to be more patient to attain those goals. Felt happy seeing the Saudi Olympic team walking the arena

  3. Contrary to the first comment made by “dean”, I dare say that the majority of the Saudi public DO oppose the idea of women participating in any international sports events. Ask any Saudi if he’d be okay with his sister, mother, wife or daughter uncovering their faces in public, let alone them appearing on TV, and they’d be raging with anger by the mere thought of it.

  4. Huda

    Well, I am a Saudi girl, and I assure you that what Eman Al-Nafjan is propagating about the Saudi society is a mere joke. But just as Dean well stated “the only way you can become a writer for the guardian is if you write how backwards saudi arabia is”
    I am a swimmer and my mother is a horse rider. Participating in the Olympics is not a concern for us and we do not really care about it. It is not a big deal for us. We are happy to exercise our sports freely in Saudi Arabia.
    Even if we want to participate in the Olympics, my father would actually be more than supportive of us, but as I said again, it is not a concern for us. We love our culture and religion and we respect our values more than you could ever imagine.

    • Sandy

      Huda, it may not be a concern for you- but that is because, unlike most Saudi girls you have the opportunity for sport- and even the support of a guardian if you did want to pursue it professionally. Most Saudi girls/women do not have your opportunities and perhaps would like the opportunities you have, and the power to CHOOSE what they’d like.

      • Huda

        I am finding it hard to understand your point Sandy. Not sure if you have been in Saudi before or not. If not, I invite you to visit it to see by your own eyes how women live here. I am a Saudi girl, born and raised in Saudi Arabia. I am fully aware that people around the world hear on the media that we are oppressed and that Islam is evil. However, the truth is that we are in fact very happy in our lives. As far as sport is concerned, there are so many gyms and sport clubs here for women where they can exercise most types of sports as much as they like. All girls and women are welcome to exercise sports in these places. It’s available to them all.
        When it comes to participating in the Olympic games, we find such events could lead to mixing inappropriately with unrelated men, or uncovering of our bodies in public, or being watched by unrelated men while running, or falling, or even laughing or crying with lots of cameras taking pictures of us. All these things are not acceptable in our culture. I do understand though that all these things are normal in other cultures, but they are not acceptable in ours and we should respect each other’s cultures. Also, being Saudi women, we come from a land that is special for all Muslims. So, we should always be the best examples for our Muslim sisters around the world by holding firmly to the teachings of our religion.

    • Writing for the Guardian is not much different from Selling Crude Oil to the Infidels ?
      As an avowed Socialist; I. can not condone the notion of Religious Orthodoxy for the Lower Classes, and Splendor and Luxury for the
      Plutocratical Elite.

    • greg

      Why do you need a guardian? Afraid of ther big bad world you have created?

  5. Sandy

    I live in Saudi Arabia. And you seem unaware of how the majority of Saudi women don’t have access to these things. Yes, the elite, who can afford drivers (most Saudi women cannot) and gyms etc. have access to these things- providing their legal guardians allow it. it is absolutely not available to all, or even most.

    Saudi is tribal and patriarchal far more than it is Islamic. As a Muslim I have no problem with Islam- a lot of trouble with how things are done in Saudi.

    As far as Olympic participation- many Muslims from other countries are going. I’m a big believer in the Quran where it says, “there is no compulsion in religion” and “no soul can bear the burden of another”. Grown up women should have opportunity and the power to decide for themselves what to do in this case.

    • Huda

      As far as participating in the Olympics, I know that many Muslim women from other countries are participating. But as I said before, being from the land of the two holy mosques should make us, Saudi woman, a good example for all Muslim women. We should cling to the teaching of our religion as much as we can.

      The aya you posted “there is no compulsion in religion” means that “do not force anyone to become Muslim, for Islam is plain and clear, and its proofs and evidence are plain and clear. Therefore, there is no need to force anyone to embrace Islam.” (Tafsir Ibn Kathir”

      The other aya that you posted is “no soul can bear the burden of another.” It means that “No person earns any (sin) except against himself (only), and no bearer of burdens shall bear the burden of another.) thus emphasizing Allah’s reckoning, decision and justice that will occur on the Day of Resurrection. The souls will only be recompensed for their deeds, good for good and evil for evil. No person shall carry the burden of another person, a fact that indicates Allah’s perfect justice.” (Tafsir Ibn Kathir)

      I do not see any relevance for the two ayaat that you quoted to the issue of participating in the Olympics. So, please next time when you quote ayaat from the Quran to justify your point, be very careful for the Quran is not something to play with or to explain it in a way that suit your own wish.

      Having said that, I would still remind you that “mixing inappropriately with unrelated men, wearing very tight clothing that show our body parts in front of unrelated men, or uncovering of our bodies in public, or being watched by unrelated men while running, or falling, or even laughing or crying with lots of cameras taking pictures of us” is unacceptable for Muslim women. I can show you proofs from the Quran and the prophetic traditions about that, if you wish.


      • Sandy

        In religious matters there is no compulsion. People are to decide for themselves how they understand what is proper. And controlling others is an excuse for trying to bear anothers burdens.

        You do not need to agree with my understanding of things, I am not trying to convince you. But you should be aware not everyone is in line with the Saudi Clergy on religious matters including gender segregation and control and subjugation of women. Just because I see things differently than you does not mean I am playing with Quran to justify my positions and how dare you suggest such a thing. We are entitled to different understandings of things- and Allah knows best. But there is no consensus in your viewpoints. And I am not interested in your sort of “proofs” I am capable of discerning for myself what sorts of “rulings” and “evidence” seem legitimate. And that one you quoted is from someone I don’t feel obligated to respect in any way shape or form.

    • Huda

      I forgot to add that I do not know what city or part of Saudi Arabia you live in. But I do not think a foreigner would know about Saudi Arabia and the Saudi culture more than the local Saudis.
      Economically, Saudi Arabia is in a good shape. Joining a gym here is not that expensive for most women. Also, Muslim women are encouraged by Islam to play sports and exercise. Most of my friends here join gyms and play sports at the heart of Saudi Arabia, Riyadh.
      Also, getting rides here is not a big issue as you imagine it. My brother and sometimes my father give me rides whenever I need to go somewhere. In case they are not able to provide me with that privilege, I can take a ride with my friends, cousins, or acquaintances. Even if I have my own car to drive, I would not want to drive by myself here because driving in the cities in Saudi Arabia is not that safe and I would rather prefer to be driven instead of driving out here.

      • Sandy

        You seem incredibly ignorant about your own people. I have been here for decades, worked and lived with Saudi’s. And I can assure you that you are not the only Saudi woman I have come across who has no idea how so many Saudi women live. I have seen these poor women handing over half their salaries to afford transport to work. I have known many that get stuck in their homes for weeks on end. You should want for your sisters what you have for yourself. You should get out more and mix with the less privileged in your country.

        And if you think being a passenger is safer than being the driver- that is only the case if the male driver is a better driver than the woman. And the world over, women are statistically the safer drivers. So give them a chance. You don’t have to drive if you don’t want to – but what about those that do?

      • Sandy

        What responsibilities do you have that driving isn’t an issue? Do you need to get to work? Children to a doctor? Food from the store for the table? Or is someone else running your house and your outings are all social?

  6. Huda

    If you claim that you know Saudi Arabia more than me and that you lived here for ages and therefore nobody knows about the country more than you, and even the locals are ignorant about their own culture and lifestyle and you know better than them, then be it, I do not care at all about your claim.
    I would be very happy, however, to see direct proof from the Quran or the prophetic tradition that permits what goes on in the Olympics such as “mixing inappropriately with unrelated men, wearing very tight clothing that show our body parts in front of unrelated men, or the uncovering of our bodies in public.”
    If you tell me that you do not care about all the explanations of the Quran, and you do not care about the prophetic traditions, and you have your own doctrine of Islam based on your own personal wishes and whims, then I ask Allah to guide you back to the right path of Islam.
    May Allah guide us all to the right path

    • I’m not sure who you are trying to fool by your claims Huda. First and foremost, the fact that physical education is banned for girl says it all. I am a person who was born and lived in Saudi Arabia, and having grown up in an extremely patriarchal culture, I never used to see any problems with everything that goes on against women here. Maybe because I’m a male, or maybe because I’ve been to a Saudi state school where I was spoon-fed “the authentic version” of Islam that allows and even encourages women oppression. Needles to say that Islam is against all types of oppression including those against women, yet Saudi Arabia implements a deformed version of Sharia where it’s all legitimate.

      You may be from the privileged minority of Saudis who have supportive parents/guardians and can afford expensive health club fees. But there is no accuracy in your claims that all Saudi women can go to gyms for low-cost charges. And those who can, are usually restricted from going there by their guardians. I live in Medina. And given that it’s a major city, you’d expect to find all facilities and services at hand. I’ve looked for a gym for my sisters, but I was appalled to discover that there was not a single one for ladies. There was only one gym that I’ve been to, that said they will consider opening up a branch for women in the future. I don’t know if they did by now, but I assure you that I could not afford to exercise there myself due to their costly charges. Never mind the higher fees they will soon have for women, since they’d be the only gym serving “the weaker sex”.

      All the athletes who are partaking in the Olympics have had a lot of training at clubs or gyms back in their home countries, and Saudi Arabia has, once again, contradicted itself by allowing those two women -who had no access to such a basic right- to participate, when they think it’s prohibited for them to take part there in the first place.

      Aside from the controversy of the participation of women in the Olympics or any international sports events. Don’t you at least agree that there should be more -if there are any- gyms and health clubs for women across the country? After all, Islam does encourage women to exercise and play sports.

    • Sandy

      I never claimed half of what you just said. However, yes, you seem to be quite unaware of how Saudi is for women LEGALLY and how that can be for most women. And, I know many Saudi’s who are not ignorant about their country, so no, I don’t know more than them- they have often been my teachers.
      Also- as you are the one proposing restrictions on Women- it is you who must provide the proof. You can not restrict something without proof. And be careful what words you shove in my mouth. I never said I made up my own doctrine of Islam based on my own personal wishes and whims. That is your judgement on me- because I understand things differently than you do. Passing judgement on people and making public claims about a believing woman is also frowned upon in Islam.

  7. skeptic

    This is for sure a triumph for Saudi Women… I wish that they continue to have such triumphs and by nest Olympic games they will be more numerous. An if someone’s interested in the profile of the first 2 Saudi female athletes, u can check this site:

  8. Sandy

    Eman, thank you for clarifying Huda/Edwards identity. It explains a lot. I’m guessing s/he’s a man- but you never know.
    Keep up the good work with the blog!

  9. I saw the young Saudi lady run in the 800m heat. She was clearly outclassed even at this early stage in the competitiion – but that didn’t matter. What mattered was that the stadium applauded her all the way to the finish then cheered her over the line. I saw a fleeting smile pass across her face which, to me, indicated to me that she understood that she was amongst friends who wished her well.

    We can only hope that ‘the powers that be’ in Saudi Arabia will understand that no one else in the World is worrying about the dress of these fine young women and that engaging with the rest of humanity can do nothing but good for the conntry and it’s people.

  10. Sojourner

    I believe the women from Saudi Arabia deserve a medal, perhaps not for best performance but fore courage, perseverance and being ground breakers! I was moved to tears by their participation in the Olympics!

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