By James M. Dorsey
Female US Congressional staffers in Riyadh’s King Fahd Stadium, source: James M. Dorsey
A Saudi debate about the societal role of soccer expanded this week with controversy over a group of female American Congressional staffers being allowed to watch a match in a Riyadh stadium from which Saudi women are barred and a video in which a teacher encouraged his students to chant slogans for a soccer club rather than the national anthem.
The expanded debate hooks into a broader debate about women’s rights in a country that upholds gender segregation; bans women from driving, attending sports matches and forces women’s soccer clubs to operate in a legal and social nether land; and in general provides few sporting opportunities for women. A Saudi student allegedly died earlier this month after officials at King Saud University refused to allow male emergency responders entry to the women only section of the campus to apply first aid.
In the latest twist of the debate on women’s rights, Saudi media quoted female entrepreneurs as saying they were forced to close down shops because their women employees had difficulty finding affordable transport to and from work. With relatively few municipal busses offering separate sections for women, women are forced to either hire a full-time driver or pay for expensive taxis.
The restrictions on women’s sports appear at odds with public opinion. A Saudi sociologist concluded in November on the basis of a survey that the vast majority of Saudis favour granting women the right to engage in sports. The survey conducted by Mariam Dujain Al-Kaabi as part of her master thesis showed that 73.5 percent of the respondents unambiguously endorsed a woman’s right to engage in sports while 21.6 percent felt that it should be conditional.
There are no official facilities for female athletes or physical education programs for girls in schools in the kingdom. Spanish consultants hired to draft Saudi Arabia’s first ever national sports plan were instructed by the government to do so for men only.
Saudi Arabia alongside Yemen was the only… (the rest is @Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer) Continue: http://mideastsoccer.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/saudi-soccer-debates-broadens-over.html