The Olympic Games officially begin in London tonight, with a lavish opening ceremony in the works.
For most countries, sending teams and individuals to the Games is a matter of routine at this stage and is often taken for granted.
This year, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei will send female athletes to the Games for the first time. This delay in sending women to compete in the Olympics is not down to a lack of interest within the countries. This is simply the first year that women were allowed to go. So insular and conservative are these countries regarding the outside world, they considered sending women to be shown on television akin to prostitution.
Indeed, a few hours ago a hashtag regarding the two Saudi athletes, Wojdan Shoherkani (Judo) and Sarah Attar (Athletics), began to draw a lot of attention. The tag #عاهرات_الاولمبياد , translates as “The Prostitutes of the Olympics”.
Reaction was mixed, with some agreeing with the sentiment, angry that Saudi women were to participate. Strict rules about the women’s dress and a zero tolerance policy regarding interaction with male athletes did little to assuage them.
However, Twitter soon did what it does best. It turned to social justice. The hashtag was appropriated by supporters, who flooded the tag with well-wishes to Attar and Shoherkani along with female athletes from every participating nation in an effort to drown out any derogatory comments.
Screengrabs of the alleged instigator of the tag became the photo most associated with it, in a bid to name and shame him.
In a situation like this it’s hard to know whether to feel happy or sad. Sure, 3 more countries have taken a huge step forward in women’s rights. But while the women are allowed to compete, they do so while under extremely strict regulations and face suspicion and shame at home instead of blanket support. controversy surrounding the banning of the hijab from Judo on safety grounds means Shoherkani’s participation is still being finalised.
Hopefully, this the storm before the calm and in 10 years Saudi Arabia will think nothing of sending a gymnastics team. Until then, we can only take the little victories and the little bids for independence and equality.