(Women's basketball team, Saudi Arabia's Jeddah United, pose at Kuala Lampur airport in this undated photo. Saudi Arabia's Jeddah United team played on February 17, 2012 a basketball match against Women's basketball team, Universiti Malaya (Kuala Lampur) team. REUTERS/Saudi Arabia's Jeddah United/Handout )

The image of 24-year-old Nour Fitiany resting courtside as the pounding of basketballs and thumping of feet reverberated around her wouldn’t merit a second glance in most countries.

But in Saudi Arabia, where girls are banned from sports in state schools, powerful clerics castigate women for exercising and female gyms must adhere to strict regulations, Fitiany’s ambition to play basketball – let alone represent her country in international tournaments – is a bold political statement.

“I hope that when they see that there are girls who really want to play, and who do play regardless of the obstacles that lie in their path, they realize that they have to do something,” she said, dressed in a baby blue t-shirt and grey jogging pants, spinning a basketball on her index finger.

Female participation in sports has long been a controversial issue in the conservative Islamic kingdom, which on February 15 was lambasted by Human Rights Watch for never having sent a woman athlete to the Olympics.