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One government-appointed mullah believes sports may cause young women to lose their virginity.
Lina Al Maeena, 30, is founder of Jeddah United basketball team whose players are mostly students and housewives. She said in an interview that she had seen “drastic changes” in the mental health of women who had come to play regularly — many of them in headscarves, long pants and long-sleeved shirts.
She recalled how one girl who was suffering from anorexia “just blossomed” and “is one of our most amazing players.” Other girls who were on antidepressants no longer needed them because “their seratonin levels just went up naturally” during dribbling and shooting on the court, Al Maeena said.
“People think sport is only for losing weight,” said Lamis Darwish, a tall, slender 20-something who exercises several days a week at Impact, an all-women’s gym attached to a downtown Riyadh medical facility.
But Darwish says she also does it for her mental health. “It makes me happy, all the bad energy comes out,” she said.
Sports clubs like Impact are licensed because they are associated with hospitals or medical centers. But these facilities are scarce, and usually too expensive for most young women.
In an effort to meet the growing demand for women’s exercise facilities, some entrepreneurs have opened establishments that they describe to licensing authorities as “beauty salons,” or “natural treatment centers” because they know that they cannot get licensed as all-female gym.
These facilities are the ones now being threatened with closure because they are not properly “licensed.” And yet, officials admit, no government department — including the one that issues licenses for men’s gyms — is authorized to license women’s gyms.
After this was recently highlighted in the press, some members of the Shura Council, the state-appointed advisory body, expressed dismay that their recommendation several years ago to open all-female exercising facilities had not been implemented and they urged the government to do so.
But cleric Al Manee from the Council of Senior Ulema told the Saudi Gazette that the “decision on whether to permit sports clubs for women requires a ruling” from the Council.
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