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No sporting chance for Saudi women

One government-appointed mullah believes sports may cause young women to lose their virginity.

“Women need to have their dignity protected,” Sheikh Abdullah Al Manee, a member of the government-appointed Council of Senior Ulema, or religious scholars, told the Saudi Gazette.

“Sports such as football and basketball require a lot of movement which may cause young women to lose their virginity, which can cause them numerous problems later on.”

Another Islamic scholar and blogger, Muhammed Al Habdan, wrote that physical education at girls’ schools would require them to disrobe. In addition, it might lead to “the loss of the shyness that is characteristic of Muslim girls,” and “the eventual masculinization of women” who will lose “their innate female inclinations.”

Al Habdan also suggested that such classes might contribute “to the rising phenomenon of young women admiring one another lustfully in girls' schools — especially since young women will begin to see one another's svelte physiques.”

Physical education classes, he added, would be the start of “a slippery slope” with Saudi Arabia “following in the footsteps of Western countries ... by allowing women additional freedoms in sports. Soon the state will inaugurate colleges dedicated to female sports, then they will hold national championships. And to think that this brouhaha all began because women needed exercise and it just spiraled out of control.”

Al Habdan does not hold a government position but his religious advice is followed by a significant segment of Saudi society.

Nevertheless, young women increasingly see the value, both aesthetic and medical, in regular exercise and sports. In recent years, they have begun organizing informal soccer, basketball and volleyball teams that play on private properties — sometimes at weekend homes in the desert outskirts of Riyadh, sometimes in private school stadiums.

These semi-clandestine teams are most overt in Jeddah, the Red Sea port that is the country’s most liberal city.