Equality Games

Why will so few Muslim women compete at the London Olympics?

Last Updated: 04/07/12 10:44am

Special Report - Equality Games

The plight of Islamic women wishing to compete at the Olympics was the subject of this week's Special Report.

"If the people that are making the decisions in the game are open-minded enough and aware of what issues there might be, it will be more harmonious for everybody."

Zesh Rehman

Quotes of the week

Saudi Arabia may yet send a team to London, populated solely by male athletes and not a single woman of Islamic faith has ever competed for Team GB.

Qatar and Brunei will send women athletes to the Olympics for the first time this month, but are these token gestures?

Former Qatari archer and rally driver Nada Zeidan - now a nurse - carried the Olympic torch last week and told Special Report that she hopes more women will be given the chance to fulfil the dream that passed her by and participate in the Games.

"Qatar is a small country and I found a lot of challenges when I started - but I broke all these barriers," said Zeidan, the first female rally driver to race in the Middle East.

"I believe in myself and I believe what I'm doing; I wanted to show all of the world what Qatar ladies and Arabic women can do."

Disputes

The Olympic Stadium is in Newham, a diverse borough where up to half of the population is thought to be Muslim.

Yet this summer there will be hardly any Muslims representing Team GB - so is there anything in the Koran that says women shouldn't take part in sport?

Dr Carool Kersten, of King's College, London, said: "The Koran is a document that dates back to the seventh century when sport wasn't exactly something that featured in the daily lives of most people, hence there isn't anything specifically about it.

"That's where you get into disputes. Those who say that it isn't specifically mentioned that you can do it means it's forbidden, while the opposing view is that it's not forbidden so why not allow it?

"Societies evolve, change and if it's not in direct opposition to any explicit prohibition in the Koran there should be no reason why women could not engage in sport. It's a lively debate among Muslims the world over."

Harmonious

Former Premier League defender Zesh Rehman - a Muslim player who was told by one coach growing up that he'd never make it as a pro because of the colour of his skin - said it's time for religion and sport to embrace each other.

"There are no barriers there," he said. "A lot of people have brought attention to it. For myself growing up I never brought any attention to it or asked for any special treatment because football, and sport in general, is one way that can unite people together.

"If the people that are making the decisions in the game are open-minded enough and aware of what issues there might be, it will be more harmonious for everybody."

The International Olympics Committee - which has long connected the Olympics with maintaining what they call "universal ethical principles" and "social responsibility" - declined our request to comment on this week's Special Report.