12:48 PM EST, February 16, 2012
Human Rights Watch is beating the drum this week about Saudi Arabia's discrimination against women athletes, noting among other things it is one of three countries never to have sent a woman to the Olympics.
That effort should be taking aim at a different target.
It also is a country (the third is Brunei) that never has sent a woman athlete to the Olympics.
More importantly, Doha, Qatar now is an official candidate to host the 2020 OIympics, having joined Madrid, Tokyo, Istanbul and Baku, Azerbaijan in submitting its application file and guarantees to the International Olympic Committee by the Wednesday deadline.
With the bid in mind, the Qataris have vowed to have some women on their 2012 Olympic team.
That promise smacks of pragmatic pandering rather than a real effort to integrate women fully into Qatari sport.
There are a million reasons not to select Qatar as an Olympic host, some of which I have enumerated in other columns on Doha's bid. They include climate, attitudes toward homosexuals, exploitation of migrant workers, hostility toward Israel and restrictions on women.
There is only once reason to select Doha.
The gas-rich Qataris clearly would be ready to accede to any financial demand the IOC or an international sports federation would make, hoping that having the Olympics will grant legitimacy to a country that -- as Human Rights Watch notes in its 2012 World Report on Qatar -- discriminates against women in legal matters and does not criminalize domestic violence.
Doha has said it will use a 2020 Olympics to improve opportunities for women's sports in Arab countries.
Beijing told the IOC it would use the 2008 Olympics as a catalyst for greater human rights in China, and four years later we all know that was a disgustingly empty promise.
The new Human Rights Watch report that justifiably castigates Saudi Arabia's record on women in sports gives Qatar a pass because it has "sent female athletes to regional and international competitions such as the Islamic Women’s Games."
This is not the time for Human Rights Watch to split hairs the way it did in the report on Saudi Arabia, released a day before Thursday's start of the IOC Conference on Women and Sport in Los Angeles.
HRW should not just be trying to pressure the IOC to ban the Saudis from the Olympics until they give women more sports opportunities.
It should pressure the IOC to reject Doha's 2020 Olympic bid out of hand, well before the Sept. 7, 2013 vote to select that host city. The IOC should remind the Qataris about the Olympic Charter's lofty language against discrimination based on "race, religion, politics or gender" and tell the Qataris they need not bid again for as many years as it takes for the country to show more than token Olympic participation by its women -- as well as an end to Qatar's other forms of discrimination.
How many years might that be? I suspect the best answer may come in a lyric from an old Johnny Mathis song:
Until the twelfth of never, and that's a long, long time.
Sad to say, that likely is still before the IOC puts its mouth where its stated moral principles are.
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