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Published on May 23rd, 2012 | by Ben Sayah
Image © [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="567" caption="© Wilson Hui"][/caption]   2276 years ago an undervalued sporting triumphant occurred. Bilistiche, a foreign slave of unknown origin competed in the Athenian Olympic games and won the two most popular chariot races held in Ancient Greece. Following the victory Bilistiche was deified and, when succumbed to Hades, was buried a champion under the shrine of Serapis in Alexandria. Although the victories of ancient Olympians is by no means an unknown affair, what makes this event so momentous is the fact that Bilistiche was for first time in recorded history a female victor of the games. Although the race began with a late start and some high hurdles to leap, gender inclusion in the modern games since Bilistiche has led to countless milestones. For example shooter Margret Murdock winning a silver medal in the all gender rifle competition at the 1976 games, Amy Van Dyken winning four gold medals in the 1996 games, Kelly Holmes in 2004 winning gold in two middle distance athletics races, but perhaps the most spectacular of these being the records held by Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina. Between 1956-1964 Latynina won 9 gold medals in 18 gymnastic events, totalling 46 medals in her career holding more medals than any other athlete (male or female) in Olympic history. Yet in spite of these countless victories it would seem that there are still some barriers yet to break, as even admittance for women in some national teams proves almost impossible. In previous years three nations have refused to send female athletes to the summer games, these being Qatar, Brunei, and Saudi Arabia. Following the announcement of the 2012 Olympic games the International Olympic Committee (IOC) however informed the public that it hoped these coming London games would become the first in which all 204 countries commit some female athletes in their official delegation. Although the IOC have since made effective steps in persuading these three nations to bring female athletes, only one, Saudi Arabia, have seemingly had issue with the their decision. As it stands ‘The Land of the two holy Mosques’ have asserted that they will only send female athletes as long as the games “meet the standard of women’s decency and don’t contradict Islamic Law”. So how exactly does Islamic Law view sport? According to Saudi Arabian Islamic scholar Sheikh Muhammed Salih Al-Munajjid, “Islam accepts sports and encourages us to engage in them”. Sports however are only permissible so long as they run in line with Shari’a Law and prevent the occurrence of ‘haraams’, for muslims the prime ‘harrams’ which must be avoided by competitors are essentially missing prayer, prideful victory, and public bodily exposure. Yet recently complications over whether or not these conditions will be met have caused difficulty in finding a simple answer as to whether Saudi Arabia will or will not admit female competitors. To complicate matters further the IOC in response to Saudi complications asserted their position by their written charter stating that “any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on regard of race, religion, politics, sex, or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic movement”. IOC seemingly moving ‘Check’, but not quite ‘Checkmate’ against the Saudi King’s decision. We must remember though, that the problem of discrimination is not as simple as we may initially believe, as it would seem difficulties of discrimination have arisen on either side. Is it better we uphold the right for female athletes to bypass Shari’a and compete in the games? Or better we protect the Saudi Wahhabi right to practice their religion through ‘Shari’a Law’?  Unfortunately it seems both parties will not waver in their stance to uphold their own fight against discrimination, but what about the opinion of the female athletes? Being of Islamic, Saudi, and athletic standing surely places them as the most the most appropriate representatives of the debate? Male athletes have for years competed in the games whilst upholding their beliefs in Shari’a Law (one legendary competitor being the Iranian Hercules, weight lifter Hossien Rezazadeh), yet as it stands this opportunity has been closed for female Saudi competitors. Surely it should be simple enough for the Olympic committee to make designs to appease both Islamic belief of competitors and equal opportunity for athletes. One major female athlete who seems certain to provide the Kingdom with some medals is equestrian show jumper Dalma Rushdi Malhas who has already previously competed at national level at the Youth Olympic Games in Singapore. Throughout the event Dalma upheld her personal religious beliefs chiefly by wearing traditional concealed dress throughout the games. Although Dalma’s event hardly forces her to wear revealing dress, I’m quite unaware of any Olympic dress that could not be somewhat adapted for the religious belief of the competitor? And so surely there is some middle ground that has yet been explored by both the IOC and the Saudi government.

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High Vault to leap for IOC and Saudi Olympic Committee

© Wilson Hui

 

2276 years ago an undervalued sporting triumphant occurred. Bilistiche, a foreign slave of unknown origin competed in the Athenian Olympic games and won the two most popular chariot races held in Ancient Greece. Following the victory Bilistiche was deified and, when succumbed to Hades, was buried a champion under the shrine of Serapis in Alexandria. Although the victories of ancient Olympians is by no means an unknown affair, what makes this event so momentous is the fact that Bilistiche was for first time in recorded history a female victor of the games.

Although the race began with a late start and some high hurdles to leap, gender inclusion in the modern games since Bilistiche has led to countless milestones. For example shooter Margret Murdock winning a silver medal in the all gender rifle competition at the 1976 games, Amy Van Dyken winning four gold medals in the 1996 games, Kelly Holmes in 2004 winning gold in two middle distance athletics races, but perhaps the most spectacular of these being the records held by Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina. Between 1956-1964 Latynina won 9 gold medals in 18 gymnastic events, totalling 46 medals in her career holding more medals than any other athlete (male or female) in Olympic history. Yet in spite of these countless victories it would seem that there are still some barriers yet to break, as even admittance for women in some national teams proves almost impossible.

In previous years three nations have refused to send female athletes to the summer games, these being Qatar, Brunei, and Saudi Arabia. Following the announcement of the 2012 Olympic games the International Olympic Committee (IOC) however informed the public that it hoped these coming London games would become the first in which all 204 countries commit some female athletes in their official delegation. Although the IOC have since made effective steps in persuading these three nations to bring female athletes, only one, Saudi Arabia, have seemingly had issue with the their decision. As it stands ‘The Land of the two holy Mosques’ have asserted that they will only send female athletes as long as the games “meet the standard of women’s decency and don’t contradict Islamic Law”.

So how exactly does Islamic Law view sport? According to Saudi Arabian Islamic scholar Sheikh Muhammed Salih Al-Munajjid, “Islam accepts sports and encourages us to engage in them”. Sports however are only permissible so long as they run in line with Shari’a Law and prevent the occurrence of ‘haraams’, for muslims the prime ‘harrams’ which must be avoided by competitors are essentially missing prayer, prideful victory, and public bodily exposure. Yet recently complications over whether or not these conditions will be met have caused difficulty in finding a simple answer as to whether Saudi Arabia will or will not admit female competitors. To complicate matters further the IOC in response to Saudi complications asserted their position by their written charter stating that “any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on regard of race, religion, politics, sex, or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic movement”. IOC seemingly moving ‘Check’, but not quite ‘Checkmate’ against the Saudi King’s decision.

We must remember though, that the problem of discrimination is not as simple as we may initially believe, as it would seem difficulties of discrimination have arisen on either side. Is it better we uphold the right for female athletes to bypass Shari’a and compete in the games? Or better we protect the Saudi Wahhabi right to practice their religion through ‘Shari’a Law’?  Unfortunately it seems both parties will not waver in their stance to uphold their own fight against discrimination, but what about the opinion of the female athletes? Being of Islamic, Saudi, and athletic standing surely places them as the most the most appropriate representatives of the debate? Male athletes have for years competed in the games whilst upholding their beliefs in Shari’a Law (one legendary competitor being the Iranian Hercules, weight lifter Hossien Rezazadeh), yet as it stands this opportunity has been closed for female Saudi competitors. Surely it should be simple enough for the Olympic committee to make designs to appease both Islamic belief of competitors and equal opportunity for athletes. One major female athlete who seems certain to provide the Kingdom with some medals is equestrian show jumper Dalma Rushdi Malhas who has already previously competed at national level at the Youth Olympic Games in Singapore. Throughout the event Dalma upheld her personal religious beliefs chiefly by wearing traditional concealed dress throughout the games. Although Dalma’s event hardly forces her to wear revealing dress, I’m quite unaware of any Olympic dress that could not be somewhat adapted for the religious belief of the competitor? And so surely there is some middle ground that has yet been explored by both the IOC and the Saudi government.

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