5:30 PM EDT, April 5, 2012
Let's see if Jacques Rogge puts his spine where his mouth is.
At February's International Olympic Committee Women in Sport Conference in Los Angeles, the IOC president paid plenty of lip service to the ideas of gender equality. He also spoke of the "long battle" to have better sports participation for women around the world, admitting, "It is not going to be easy."
Now let's see what the IOC does with Saudi Arabia, which reportedly has decided not to have a woman as an official member of its its Olympic team this summer in London.
That's nothing new: the Saudis are one of three countries (others: Qatar and Brunei) that never have had a female Olympian.
According to Thursday's editions of Al-Watan newspaper, an all-but-official government organ, Saudi Olympic Committee president Prince Nawaf Bin-Faisal (a member of the Saudi royal family and the country's sports minister), told a Wednesday press conference, that he "does not endorse female participation of Saudi Arabia at the present time in the Olympics and international tournaments."
The prince also was quoted as saying, cryptically, "Female Saudi participation will be according to the wishes of students and others living abroad. All we are doing is to ensure that participation is in the proper framework and in conformity with sharia (Islamic law)."
That apparently has opened some sort of loophole for Saudi women to compete outside the official Saudi delegation.
Less than a month ago, the IOC had a story on its web site headlined ,"Progress made for Saudi women athletes at London 2012."
In a Thursday statement to the Associated Press, the IOC said, "We are still in discussion and working to ensure the participation of Saudi women at the games in London."
One can only hope that doesn't mean the IOC will cave in to the Saudis in some kind of compromise that allows female athletes as long as they are unofficial.
That is how Dalma Malhas, a Saudi national born in Ohio, competed in the 2010 Youth Olympic Games in equestrian. She came on an IOC invitation after the Saudis would not send her.
But that isn't progress.
It's just a way of turning women who are second-class sports citizens in their own country into second-class citizens at the Olympics, no matter how much the IOC may claim this is a way for Saudi women to get their feet in the Olympic door.
If that happens, IOC officials may liken it to the compromise that allowed athletes from Yugoslavia (Serbia-Montenegro) to compete in individual events at the 1992 Olympics under the Olympic flag.
That compromise owed to United Nations sanctions against Yugoslavia after what the U.N. security council called at the time alleged aggression by Yugoslavia in wars with two of its former republics.
This is completely different. It involves one of the so-called "Fundamental Principles of Olympism as spelled out in the Olympic Charter, to wit:
"Any form of discrimination with regard to a country on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement."
Human Rights Watch published a report in February that "documented the systematic discrimination against women in sports in Saudi Arabia, including their exclusion from the 153 sports clubs regulated by Nawaf’s ministry, the Saudi National Olympic Committee (NOC), and the 29 national sporting federations, which are also overseen by Nawaf in his capacity as head of the NOC."
The worst part of this is the IOC deserves great credit for helping increase women's participation in the Olympics. Forty years ago in Munich, only 14 percent (1,058) of the 7,173 total athletes were women; four years ago in Beijing, 42 percent (4,746) of the 11,196 total athletes were women.
That is what makes the idea of a nudge-nudge-wink-wink compromise with the Saudis as absurd as the eponymous Monty Python skit.
It's also just plain wrong.
It's time for the IOC to stand for its allegedly sacrosanct beliefs. Either Saudi Arabia, Brunei and Qatar have women athletes in their official Olympic delegations or the door is closed to all their athletes.
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