News / Middle East

    Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypesi
    Heather Murdock
    February 02, 2016 9:19 PM
    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Heather Murdock

    Twenty-year-old Nour Gary has been playing basketball for 10 years, but her father has never attended her games. Men are not allowed courtside during women’s games in Saudi Arabia, so she plays with her father privately for fun.

    All women who play sports in the kingdom need permission from a male "guardian," usually a father or husband. Some parents refuse, Gary said, but hers are happy to oblige.

    “They are enthusiastic about me playing and doing some things other than sitting around watching TV or going out," Gary told VOA.

    Women’s rights in Saudi Arabia have come far in recent years, other players said, but many basic freedoms, like the right to drive cars or make major decisions independent of their male guardians, remain elusive.

    On the front lines of breaking traditions that quash women’s voices are growing numbers of female athletes, according to Lina Almaeena, head of the Jeddah United Sports Company, which runs a women’s basketball team.

    “It is really happening as we speak now,” she said. “History is really happening.”

    In the coastal city of Jeddah for which her team is named, her players said that by connecting sports to health issues, other women and girls are inspired to exercise.

    International matches also chip away at the image of Saudi women as virtually silent members of their society, Almaeena said.

    Wearing white uniforms with long pants and Islamic headscarves, the Jeddah United women’s team plays against teams around the world. By playing in other countries, Saudi women broaden their own horizons as well as those of the nations they visit.

    “We played in the United States, Malaysia, in Jordan and the UAE, as well as Riyadh and other cities in Saudi Arabia,” Almaeena said.  “So we do that to promote sports locally and internationally to try to change stereotypes and show a different segment in Saudi Arabia.”

    Not all agree

    At an event in Jeddah promoting sports for handicapped boys and girls, female basketball players volunteer, cheering on competitors and helping them reach the finish lines.

    The children here face some of the same issues Saudi women deal with regularly, like isolation from public life, said Daniah Ghandour, an education consultant for the Help Center, the organization hosting the event.

    “I wouldn’t say they are completely secluded from the society,” she said of the children. “It is becoming or getting better over the years, but they are not as included as in the rest of the world.”

    Women’s sports are rapidly growing more popular in Saudi Arabia, according to basketball player Gary, and there is a waiting list to get on her team. Still, she said, many people don’t approve.

    “It is not even against the law or against the religion,” she said. “It is just people having their own beliefs and trying to close it on other people. So, yes, being open towards sports, they have more flexibility towards other things.”  

    International sports

    Internationally, Saudi female athletes are just beginning to shine amid pushback from conservatives and leaders at home. In 2012, Saudi Arabia sent its first two female athletes to the Olympic Games in London, but only after the other countries that barred women from the games had also agreed, apparently bowing to pressure from the International Olympic Committee.

    "Last year, Saudi officials suggested they bid on future Games jointly with Bahrain based on revisions of Olympic rules, so the smaller country could host women’s events seen as inappropriate for Saudi culture. The IOC rejected the suggestion in a statement, saying: “A commitment to 'non-discrimination' will be mandatory for all countries hoping to bid for the Olympics in the future."

    Women’s sports teams face difficulties finding coaches and venues in Saudi Arabia, with some sports arenas either unequipped or unwilling to host female teams. Conservative media have also criticized the players, according to Gary.

    Yet other strides in women’s issues in Saudi Arabia bode well for the future of women’s sports, according to players.

    Last year, women in Saudi Arabia voted for the first time, and 20 women were elected to local office. Like politicians, women’s sports are likely to eventually be accepted more publicly, said Deborah Parkwood, Jeddah United's American coach.  

    At the moment, their international matches are "friendly" games, and Saudi women's teams do not compete in official leagues locally or globally.

    “We have great athletes here in Saudi Arabia," Parkwood said.  "Some of them, the girls, they want to play harder, they want to train harder, and they would love to compete for their country internationally ... as proud Saudi women.”

    You May Like

    Former US Envoys Urge Obama to Delay Troop Cuts in Afghanistan

    Keeping troop levels up during conflict with both Taliban and Islamic State is necessary to support Kabul government, they say

    First Lady to Visit Africa to Promote Girls' Education

    Michele Obama will be joined by daughters and actresses Meryl Streep and Freida Pinto

    Video NYSE Analyst: Brexit Will Continue to Place Pressure on Markets

    Despite orderly pricing and execution strategy at the New York Stock Exchange, analyst explains added pressure on world financial markets is likely

    This forum has been closed.
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Unchartered Territoryi
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Unchartered Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora