Barriers to women’s sports participation in Saudi Arabia

2 Sep 2014, by Informa Australia

Saudi Arabia - No Woman No PlayAs we approach the opening of the Asia Pacific World Sport and Women Conference 2014, taking place on the 27th and 28th October in Sydney, there is no better time to share the findings of the study: Barriers to women’s sports in Saudi Arabia.

Researched and developed by Mark Caroll from the Faculty of Business and Law at London Metropolitan University, the study focused on two simple but complex components – to identify the actual barriers to women’s sports participation in Saudi Arabia and then to see what can and needs to be done to overcome these barriers.

The main aims and objectives of this study were based on two very simple but complex components; firstly to identify the actual barriers to women’s sports participation in Saudi Arabia and secondly once these barriers have been established to see what can and needs to be done to overcome them.

The first objective established six main barriers to participation, Family, Islamic Interpretation, Government, Culture, Education and Personal. Each named barrier was then further broken down uncovering a number of underlying issues to further hinder women’s participation in sport in the country.

There has been a great increase in research relating to women’s sport in Muslim countries. While all of the previously mentioned barriers play a role in the limitation of women’s consumption of sport, it is a woman’s family which still has the greatest influence over her participation.

The Government needs to educate the whole country that Islam encourages sports for women so as to change the current cultural norms within which families conduct themselves. 

The government’s lack of clear policy and infrastructure investment is also a barrier playing a key role in the lack of participation.

Schools sports provide the basis for all development in women’s sports participation. While the recent announcement that girls in private schools can have access to sports may seem like a big step forwards, private schools have long been unofficially providing sports for girls. It’s the many public schools were this really needs to take place, and although there is currently the Schools Sports Strategic Plan being prepared to address this issue; the reality is that schools don’t have the facilities nor the trained staff to implement any recommended change. There will also be staunch resistance from specific, powerful religious lobby groups and leaders.

With regard to the second objective of seeing what can and needs to be done to overcome the barriers, the Schools Sports Strategic Plan is the first step on what is a very long ladder to climb. It’s going to take a number of years to bring women’s sports anywhere near the levels of neighbouring Islamic states, and a generation to catch up on the rest of the world. The government needs to be at the forefront of initiating policy, programs and massive public and private investment to kick start this process.

There is no point in building facilities if there is not the skilled and qualified people in the country to teach women the sports and physical activity skills they will need.

Educating the population as to the benefits of sports for women in relation to Islamic teachings, health and mental wellness as well as social and community benefits lies at the hands of the government. This is key to any success that is to be achieved.

Also, officially allowing women’s governing bodies, both national and international to operate within the Kingdoms borders will also be a key strategy and will in effect make the task much easier for the government.

The main fundamental change needed to effect women’s sport participation is addressing the unequal footing women have in Saudi society and their lack of basic rights.

You can download the full report on “Mark Carroll – Barriers to women’s sports participation in Saudi Arabia”, or view their presentation below:

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