As Opening Ceremonies Begin in London, Olympic Torch Burns Bright for Women
By Alison Searle
Saudi Arabia’s announcement last month that it would allow women to participate in the Olympics means that for the first time in history, every competing nation will send both men and women to the games. The Saudi addition sparked significant press in Arab nations, as athletes from Qatar and Brunei will also participate despite ultra-conservative leadership that has historically spoken out against female involvement in sports.
Though women are still banned from participating in sports publicly in Saudi Arabia, the Olympic breakthrough gives hope to many women that they will see this ban dropped in the near future. “We are pioneers,” explained Maysan Mamoun, a basketball player. “We will open doors.”
While the issue of female participation has made a media splash this Olympics, so too has the issue of female equality. Both Japan and Australia faced embarrassing backlash for sending women to London in coach seats and the men in more expensive ones. The Guardian reported that although Japan’s women’s soccer team are world champs and gold medal contenders, “the female athletes found themselves in cramped economy seats while their male counterparts relaxed in business class.”
Japan issued no apology, instead citing a clause in their Olympic statute that gives men priority to business class due to their status as professional athletes. But Scott Derwin, Basketball Australia’s Chief Executive, made this public statement: “We should bear in mind that in fact, historically, more funding has been directed towards the Opals [the women’s team]. But the simple fact is when a policy results in gender inequality, it’s very clearly not the right policy going forward. I am putting in place a review of our Olympic travel policy with the goal of ensuring there is equity between travel arrangements for the men’s and women’s teams attending future Olympics.”
Such blatant inequalities have brought attention to gender discrimination in sport, and governments are finally being pressed to explain their inconsistencies. Here’s to the continuation of gender equality in sports and a successful kickoff to the 2012 Olympic Games.