10,000 athletes from 200 countries are about to gather in Beijing under the banner “One World, One Dream.” But for sportswomen from countries like Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Iran, that dream remains unfulfilled. While the International Olympic Committee bans any gender discrimination, these Gulf countries invoke “cultural and religious” reasons for forcing talented female athletes to stay home.
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women are legally banned from participating in any sports activity (though unofficial women’s basketball leagues are thriving). This doesn’t sit well with local women athletes. "We want to reach Olympic levels," explains Shatha Bakhsh, a member of the unlicensed Jeddah United basketball team. “We have a lot of potential, but not the chance to show it.” Her teammate, Lina al-Maeena, agrees: “When parents say that sports is sinful for girls, it really upsets me, because they're depriving their daughters of something that's very good for them.”
Iranian women are limited to sports that can comply with the country’s legal dress codes, so diving, cycling, and beach volleyball (among others) are effectively off-limits. Only three women are on the Iranian Olympic team, competing in rowing, archery, and tae kwon do. But even these athletes have to be careful not to reveal any skin by accident: Iranian rower Ramoneh Lazar was recently expelled from the national team after her ankles were seen inside her boat during a competition in Bangkok.
Perhaps by the 2012 Games in London the deferred dreams of these female athletes will at last be realized.With thanks to the C.R.I.M.E REPORT