Saudi Arabia May Lift Ban on Women’s Sports Teams

By Parvez Fatteh, Founder of,

The female basketball team of Jeddah United warm up in Jordan on April 21, 2009. Jeddah United is the only private sports company with women’s teams. © 2009 Reuters

Saudi Arabia has set up a ministerial committee to consider allowing women’s sports teams despite there being great opposition to female exercise from religious conservatives, al-Watan daily newspaper reported this past week, Abdullah al-Zamil, a senior official from the general presidency of Youth Welfare, the top Saudi sporting body, said the committee was being formed to end the “chaos” surrounding women’s sports clubs which are effectively unregulated. “The mission of the committee is focused on building a system for these clubs,” Zamil told al-Watan.

In Saudia Arabia, powerful clerics have long argued against women playing sports or doing physical exercise, tagging female gyms as expensive “health centers”. State-run girls schools are banned from doing sports, but private schools can offer sports classes.

The head of general presidency of youth welfare of Saudia Arabia was quoted saying he would not endorse Saudi women athletes at the 2012 Olympics. Human Rights Watch has called on the International Olympic Committee to bar the kingdom from the London games unless it fields a women’s contingent. The most likely woman candidate to compete under the Saudi flag, equestrian Dalma Malhas, represented the kingdom at the junior Olympics in Singapore in 2010, but without official support or recognition. So, needless to say, the world is watching Saudi very closely on this issue.


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