DUBAI: Human Rights Watch warned on Monday that despite a Saudi announcement which allows its women nationals to participate in the 2012 Olympics, millions of women are still banned from sports in the kingdom.
"It's an important step forward, but fails to address the fundamental barriers to women playing sports in the kingdom," the New York-based watchdog said in a statement.
"Millions of (Saudi) girls are banned from playing sports in schools, and women are prohibited from playing team sports and denied access to sports facilities, including gyms and swimming pools," HRW added.
Saudi Arabia's embassy in London issued a statement on Sunday announcing that women will be allowed to compete in the Olympic Games for the first time.
The Saudi Olympic Committee will "oversee participation of women athletes who can qualify," the BBC quoted the statement as saying.
So far there has been no official confirmation of the report from Saudi Arabia, and none of the local newspapers reported the announcement on Monday.
The issue of women participating in sports remains extremely sensitive in the kingdom, where women are not even allowed to drive and the authorities shut down private gyms for women in 2009 and 2010.
Equestrian contestant Dalma Malhas is likely to be the country's only female athlete to qualify for this summer's Games in London which get under way on July 27.
The fact that "so few (Saudi) women are qualified to compete at the Olympic level is due entirely to the country's restrictions on women's rights," said Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at HRW.
Worden urged the Saudi authorities to "allow sports in schools, gyms for women, and to add women to the Saudi National Olympic Committee immediately."
Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei are the only three countries never to have sent women athletes to the Olympics.
Qatar has already announced it will send a three-woman team to London, comprising shooter Bahia Al-Hamad, swimmer Nada Wafa Arakji and Noor Al-Malki, a 100m and 200m sprinter.
Brunei, meanwhile, will send a woman to London as part of its two-athlete delegation -- 400m hurdler Maziah Mahusin.
Saudi Arabia's decision could provoke resistance in the country which operates under a strict Islamic code under which women are forced to cover themselves from head to toe.
There had been increasing pressure on the Saudis to fall into line over sending a women's team with International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge admitting in April that he was conducting lengthy talks with the kingdom's rulers.
Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.
For more information, please see our Comments FAQ
there is a rising trend among people that they think that the more religious(in Islam) you are the more backward you become. which is very sad.
@rana: Why do you think that people think of Saudis as the worst people in the world? Is it all unfounded. Here in Canada, the term Saudi Arabia is synonymous with being backward and uneducated. They are thought of as the most regressive of all Muslim nations.
This gender apartheid has to end.
Women are nothing but the comodities for men to own - in Islamic cultures. They are less valuable to them than their goats or camels.
@rana: and vice versa. What's your point again?
The splendor of absolute monarchy in its most vivid apparel.
Shame on Saudis. Women must have equal rights and only a secular liberal society can provide it, religious society can't provide it.
Its really shocking that in such Global era, Saudi kings still follow middle age philosphy. What use of Mohammad (PBUH) revolution when he says that women should not be treated like slaves. Women have enough potential to compete in every walk of life. So give them chance and don't let West to raise finger on Muslims.
so now where are the woman rights ? dont they follow the Holy Quran .
Let those arabians live in their old world .Why West is so serious about it ? If they become aware , then they will take no time to throw US settlements out of Middle east ...
This is sad! Women being treated like 2nd class citizens. In fact not even 2nd class citizens; they are being treated like if their not even human and just another property that belongs to the Saudi men! do they have no love for their mothers and sisters? It's funny how when Islam came into being; it gave women more rights then they had elsewhere in the world. And now, Women have barley any rights in the land where Islam came into being. Just sad!
Kufar will never pleased with Muslim untill Muslim become fully like them :P