Should men-only Muslim teams be barred from the Olympics?
Should some Islamic countries be barred from the Beijing Olympics? The question came up in an interesting op-ed piece this week arguing that countries that ban women from competing in sports events violate the Olympic Charter and thus should be excluded from the Games. As Ali Al-Ahmed, director of the Institute for Gulf Affairs in Washington, wrote in the International Herald Tribune:
The procession of the Olympic torch drew protests from Paris to San Francisco over China’s treatment of the Tibetan people, but no one has protested another tragedy that is afflicting millions of women in Saudi Arabia, Iran and other Muslim countries. Many Muslim women dare not even dream of the Olympics because their countries ban female sports altogether or severely restrict the athletic activities of the “weaker sex.”
The International Olympic Committee charter states that “any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, sex or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.”
But the Olympic Committee is failing to adhere to its own standards. While the hypothetical example of participating countries barring black athletes from the Olympic Games would have rightly caused international outrage, the committee continues to allow the participation of countries that do not allow women on their Olympic teams.
Countries with men-only Olympic teams include Brunei, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. According to their respective governments, women are barred from Olympic participation for “cultural and religious reasons.”
This raises some interesing questions about Islam and sports. Al Ahmed says those countries barring women from the Olympics cite “cultural and religious reasons” for doing so. If there are 56 members of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), that means that over 50 other Muslim countries do not agree with the idea of banning women from sports competition. So is the opposition from Brunei, Saudi Arabia and the UAE simply cultural? And if so, is it valid for those countries to cite Islam as a reason for their decision?
The Olympic Charter clearly states in its Fundamental Principles of Olympism that sex discrimination violates the Olympic spirit. But obviously the International Olympic Committee is not enforcing this rule and the men-only teams are not respecting it. Should the IOC put its foot down and demand compliance?
Another interesting aspect that Al Ahmed mentions is that the number of men-only teams is falling- “from 35 in Barcelona in 1992 to 26 in Atlanta in 1996 to only 10 in Sydney in 2000 and four or five at the last Olympics in Athens.” One country in those statistics is Algeria – a recent feature by our North Africa chief correspondent William Maclean tells the story.
Al Ahmed has an optimistic conclusion:
“If the IOC is pressed to live up to its own standards, the London Games in 2012 should witness the celebration of female Olympians from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Iran and other Muslim countries.”
Can this change that quickly? Let us know what you think.