Skip to main content

Saudi government sanctions sports in girls' private schools

By Schams Elwazer, for CNN
updated 8:39 PM EDT, Sun May 5, 2013
Sarah Attar was one of two Saudi women allowed to compete in the 2012 Olympic Games.
Sarah Attar was one of two Saudi women allowed to compete in the 2012 Olympic Games.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Regulations for private schools require that girls dress modestly
  • One blogger says the announcement is a barometer of public opinion
  • Officials gauging backlash before shifting focus to public schools, she says

(CNN) -- Saudi Arabian girls will be officially allowed to practice sports in private schools for the first time, according to an education ministry announcement reported in the nation's official press agency.

The new regulations for physical education, announced Saturday, require that girls "dress modestly" and have appropriate equipment and facilities, and that female Saudi teachers have priority to supervise these activities.

"(This decision) stems from the teachings of our religion, which allows women to practice such activities in accordance with sharia," Education Ministry spokesman Mohammed al-Dakhini told SPA.

Saudi prince supports women driving
Saudi women allowed to ride bicycles

This is the first official government sanction of women's sports in schools, but some Saudis say it is not as momentous a decision as it may seem.

"This is not a big deal," said blogger Eman al-Nafjan, who writes about Saudi women's issues. "Private schools already have a physical education program, and the government knows about them. My daughter and niece both go to separate well-known private schools, and they both have sports programs."

Al-Nafjan says that although the announcement will not change anything for private school students, the decision itself could be a barometer for the introduction of sports into public girls' schools that do not have physical education programs.

"My speculation is that this might be a feeler to see if there's any backlash from society," al-Nafjan said. "Over the last few years, there have been several attempts to incorporate physical education into public schools, but they met with a lot of resistance. I think they're trying to gauge if society is more receptive or if there is still resistance."

Saudi Arabia has been taking steps to reform its view on women and sports. The ultraconservative kingdom fielded its first female athletes at the London Olympics last summer, and discussions under way could lead to women's private sports clubs being allowed to formally register with the Ministry of Sport.

The decision to send women to the Games was a rare concession in a kingdom where they are banned from driving. They cannot vote or hold public office, though that will change in 2015.

Women in Saudi Arabia also cannot marry, leave the country, go to school or open bank accounts without permission from a male guardian, usually the father or husband. Much of public life is segregated by gender.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:39 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Tethered to an IV drip, 71-year-old Shin Young Ja lies under a thin fleece blanket, nursing a broken back and wracked with survivor's guilt.
updated 7:23 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Family members of the missing passengers are pinning slim hopes on floundering air pockets.
updated 12:14 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
An Iranian mother slaps and then forgives her 17-year old son's murderer in dramatic scenes at the gallows.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
An "extraordinary" video shows what looks like the largest and most dangerous gathering of al Qaeda in years.
updated 8:30 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Explore each side's case, reconstructed from Pistorius' court affidavit and the prosecution's case during last year's bail hearing.
updated 8:37 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Mentions of the 1989 Tiananmen Square student protests or political reform are still censored in China.
updated 5:34 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
The Hadza are one of the last communities of hunter-gatherers in the world -- but losing their land.
updated 9:22 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
In choosing to change a traditional practice, Francis is being as radical as Jesus was in his own time.
updated 7:13 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Too weak. Can't handle pressure. Unattractive to sponsors. Susie Wolff has heard it all.
updated 8:14 PM EDT, Sun April 20, 2014
Browse through images you don't always see on news reports from CNN teams around the world.
updated 8:30 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
It's like finding a needle in a universe-wide haystack. Researchers have located a planet roughly the size of Earth that could be habitable.
updated 5:40 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Dubai, long champion of all things biggest, longest and most expensive, will soon have some competition from a neighboring country.
ADVERTISEMENT