Olympics Series Week 6: Profiles in Courage

The Saudi government announced it will allow two women athletes to compete in th

Saudi Arabian Women Athletes

Saudi Arabia is notorious for its troublesome human rights record and most especially for denying women an assortment of basic liberties.  However, in a brief moment of openness, the Saudi government announced it will allow two women athletes to compete in this year’s London Olympics.  It will be the first time that women are allowed to compete on behalf of the Islamic monarchy.  This represents a dramatic shift in policy given that women are not allowed to participate in physical education classes or attend a gym.  Their participation means that all competing countries at the Olympics will have women athletes after Brunei and Qatar relented this year.  

The two athletes are named Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani (competing in Judo) and Sarah Attar (competing in the 800-meter race).  The women will not be allowed to interact with men, must wear “suitable” clothing, and must be accompanied at all times.  While it is an encouraging development, it is unclear whether the announcement will have ripple effects for nearly fifteen million Saudi women.  

Running as an Independent

South Sudan gained independence in July 2011 and has faced a myriad of state-building challenges in the year since.  With a struggling security apparatus, tense negotiations with its neighbor to the north, and dire poverty, creating an official Olympic committee is not the state’s first priority.  As a result, South Sudan native Guor Marial will compete in the London Games, just not for home country.  He will march under the Olympic flag, wear a uniform without country affiliation, and hear the Olympic hymn if he wins a medal.  

When asked why he will not compete on behalf Sudan, his former country, he said “For me to even consider that is a betrayal. My family lost 28 members in the war with Sudan. Millions of my people were killed by Sudan forces. I can only forgive, but I cannot honor and glorify a country that killed my people."  This will be only the third time that an athlete marches under the Olympic flag.  The 1992 Winter and Summer Olympics featured members of the “Unified Team” from the former Soviet Union. 


South Sudan refugee to run in Olympic marathon by reuters

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