x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 12 December 2017

Saudi's brave female athletes

Take our poll: The two Saudi women competing in London are not only athletes, but brave members of society. An online smear campaign attacking them is shameful in every way.

Saudi Arabia's female contingent take part in the athletes parade during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games
Saudi Arabia's female contingent take part in the athletes parade during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games

For two Olympic athletes, there has been support but also shocking abuse. Many learn to grow thick skins in response to competition, but this debate has nothing to do with sport.

Over the last few days, Saudi Arabia's first female Olympic athletes attended the London Games' opening ceremony, prompting a major debate on social media, with some commentators denouncing them as "shameless". A shocking Twitter hasthtag describing the young women translates as "Olympic Whores".

There should be no limits to the outrage at this insult.

These women are competitors who have trained hard for this opportunity. One of the two, Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shaherkani, yesterday reiterated that she would not compete in the +78-kilogram judo category if she was banned from wearing a hijab. There is no reason she should be forced to - women already compete in judo wearing headscarves in competitions across Asia. The Olympics just needs to tweak a rule.

The larger picture is a debate that has brought out the worst in bigotry and misogyny. These two Saudi women are not only athletes, they are also brave members of society. They deserve our support.