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Muslim Women in Sport?

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In the recent exhilaration over the winning of Olympic medals, sports commentatHow sad?ors have praised the men and women of the Australian Olympic team as people who have done Australia proud by their efforts. It is interesting to note that all the team, whatever their background are praised as ‘Australians’ and no reference to their religious background is made, Indeed that would seem inappropriate and irrelevant, as the Olympics, since they started in modern times in 1896, have aimed to bring people together, regardless of religion or race. Thus it is interesting to note that in an article entitled ‘Muslim Sportswomen Gain Standing in Beijing ‘ Jordanian journalist, Aline Bannayan, praises the fact that increasing numbers of ‘Muslim women’ have participated in the games since 1992, although many fewer when compared with those from Western countries. She writes:
Even before the Beijing Summer Olympics begin on Friday, Habiba Hinai is tasting victory. For the first time her country is sending a female Olympian to the games. Buthaina Yaqoubi, 16, will Omani Volleyball Teamcompete in the 100-meter dash and either the long jump or the triple jump. Hinai, one of three women to represent Oman by bearing the Olympic torch during the relay earlier this year, is vice-chair of Oman's Volleyball Association, the highest position for any woman in the country's sports scene. ….Now that her country is sending female competitors to the games, Hinai says she can start looking forward to the day when more Muslim women join the International Olympic Committee and Olympic Asian Committee. "That's the only way to develop sports in the Muslim world." [my italics] (source)
Aline goes on to say that Iran, Pakistan and Bahrain, which usually have predominantly male delegations, are sending a small number of women.  Iran's 53 athletes include three women, who will compete in rowing, archery and tae kwon do. The United Arab Emirates are sending a woman, Sheik Maitha Mohammad Rashed Al-Maktoum the daughter of a Sheikh Mohammed,  to compete in equestrian events [oh boy, wouldn’t she have access to some good horses in daddy’s stables].

She says that ‘Muslim countries are warming up to women's Olympics by varying degrees.’ Intermingling her reference to Muslim countries with the actual name of the countries which have good athletes, especially the stronger Tunisian, Moroccan and Algerians teams.  No doubt there are some unhappy , brooding sheiks denouncing the fact that some women are having fun, away from the harem. Maybe there is a race to find a Quranic verse which forbids such fun.  Apparently  the first ‘Muslim’ women to be sent to an Olympic games was in 1964 when Iran sent its first female athlete to Olympics. Then in 1984, Morocco's Nawal El Moutawakel became the first Arab woman to win a gold medal when she came in first in the women's 400 meters at the Los Angeles Games. She is now minister of sports in Iran [and I didn’t even know there was such a Ministry there]. Aline writes in a positive way of the increasing contribution of ‘Muslim’ women to international sport and even hopes  that there will be Muslim women on the Olympic committee one day.
 
Even token female representation at the Olympics  causes a lot of controversy among devout Muslims

The question naturally arises – why refer to women participating in the games as ‘Muslim women’ . Surely the correct way to describe them is to refer to the countries of whom they are citizens – i.e. Omanis, Iranians,Trying hard Moroccans etc. Surely the reference to the women’s religion goes against the principles of the Olympic Games Committee which simply referes to the participators’ country of irigin and  which has been stating, in no unclear terms, that all countries, no matter who they are, cannot just send all male delegations to participate in the Olympics – they must send some women athletes. And furthermore, they keep telling us, what unites them, is their common love of sport – which at that time transcends any religious or political divides.

Of course encouraging women’s participation in sport in a good thing, and team sports teach notions of following the rules and  fairness, things which people in the Islamic world sorely need to learn. However, the more ‘Muslim’ men and women participate in sport, the more they move away from their insular, mysoginistic Islamic principles- and that can only be good thing. ON the fields, courts and in the water they are not Muslim, they are men and women participating in sport. On the sport field, there are no victims, no insisting ‘our way is the ONLY way’ ,the rules of the game are clear and the judgements of the umpires are final. Maybe that’s why many of the representatives from the Islamic countries looked quite miserable in the opening ceremony [apart from the Turkish teams]. There is no ‘special consideration’ for being Muslim. However, if the Olympic Committee is to remain consistent to its principles and have some clout it MUST continue to insist on increasing women’s representation in the teams of ALL countries, even if it makes the sheiks miserable down at the Casba.  And journalists like Aline would do well not to go against the Olympic spirit in referring to the women’s religion – they are men and women playing sport with each other – there are rules and they have to abide by them. 
Last Updated on Sunday, 17 August 2008 11:23  

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