x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Saudi sportswomen

Riyadh's decision to let Saudi women to represent their country in this summer's Olympics is an advance for Saudi women, though we look forward to the day when they can decide for themselves.

After much speculation, Saudi Arabia announced on Tuesday that it will allow female athletes to participate in the Summer Olympics in London. This, in and of itself, is already an advance for Saudi women, however small.

It will be the first time the kingdom has sent female athletes to the Games. Saudi Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz sanctioned the participation, as long as the female athletes comply with Sharia standards in dress and appearance.

According to the chairman of the Saudi Olympics Committee, participants are most likely to be Saudi women who have been studying abroad as part of scholarship programmes. If this is true, it credits a programme that has not only broadened education opportunities of Saudi women, but also helped to open the society.

Such a decision is hugely significant in a society where sport - even for men - is often frowned upon. Some hardline clerics have gone so far as to try to ban sport entirely.

The decision follows several gender-related reforms, such as giving women the right to vote and run in municipal elections, and be appointed in Majlis Al Shura. Hot-button issues such as driving remain distant targets.We welcome Riyadh's decision to let Saudi women represent their country, and look forward to the day when they can decide for themselves.