By Duncan Mackay in Los Angeles

Saudi Arabian_team_at_Athens_2004February 16 - Saudi Arabia should be banned from London 2012 unless they pledge to end discrimination against women which means that the Gulf nation has never sent a female athlete to the Olympics, a new report published today by Human Rights Watch claims.

Saudi Arabia is one of only three countries, long with Brunei and Qatar, never to have sent a female athlete to the Olympics, although Qatar has promised to send women competitors to London providing they qualify.

But in a 51-page report, 'Steps of the Devil': Denial of Women and Girls' Right to Sport in Saudi Arabia," Human Rights Watch claims that Saudi Arabia actively denies girls girls physical education in state schools, as well as following discriminatory practices in licensing women's gyms and supporting only all-male sports clubs.

The Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee also has no programmes for women athletes, which violates the Olympic Charter claims Human Rights Watch, an international non-Governmental organisation based in New York City. 

The Charter explicitly forbids "any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, sex or otherwise."

"'No women allowed,' is the Kingdom's message to Saudi women and girls who want to play sports," said Christoph Wilcke, senior Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch.

"The fact that women and girls cannot train to compete clearly violates the Olympic Charter's pledge to equality and gives the Olympic Movement itself a black eye."

The report has been published to coincide with the start of the 5th World Conference on Women and Sport, which opens here later today, and is due to be attended by International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge. 

Anita DeFrantz, who heads the IOC's Women and Sports Commission and is among the organisers of this Conference, has previously claimed that any country that did not allow female athletes to compete would be barred from the global competition.

Human Rights Watch called on Saudi Arabia to act within one year to introduce physical education for girls in all schools, open women's sections, and allocate funds to women's sport in the Youth Ministry, the Saudi National Olympic Committee, and Saudi sports federations.

They claimed that these steps would be evidence of a Saudi effort to end discrimination against women in sports and thus a prerequisite for allowing the Kingdom to be represented in Olympic events.

Dalma Rushdi_Malhas_in_Singapore_2010
The most likely female athlete from Saudi Arabia to compete in the Olympics is show jumper Dalma Rushdi Malhas (pictured), who won a bronze medal at the inaugural Summer Youth Olympic Games in Singapore in 2010. 

But, true to Saudi tradition, Malhas was accompanied to Singapore by her grandfather, Hamed Mutabagani, as her male guardian and she wore hijab outside the equestrian arena.

Human Rights Watch wants the IOC to force Saudi Arabia to give the same opportunity to compete to more women.

"The IOC should live up to Olympic values and press the Saudis to start women's sport programmess as a condition for remaining within the Olympic family," said Wilcke.

"Sports can be a great cause for good, but forcing Saudi women to watch all-male teams represent them every four years can only demoralise those aspiring to sporting glory."

To read the report click here.

Contact the writer of this story at [email protected] 

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