10/24/2020, 08.53
SAUDI ARABIA
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Women: Riyadh exploits sport to clean up its image and erase violence

Activist groups are calling for a boycott of an important women's golf tournament.  The competition, scheduled for March and postponed for Covid-19, is to be held in November north of Jeddah.  Director Mena: sport "a means to clear one's conscience", shame on those who participate.

 

Riyadh (AsiaNews) - Activists and leading human rights organizations have launched a campaign to boycott a major women's golf tournament scheduled in Saudi Arabia next month.  In an open letter, critics attack the leaders of Riyadh, accusing them of using sports competitions to "clean up" their image and provide the world with a new face in its relations with the female world.

Several activist movements such as MENA Rights Group, the Saudi ALQST and Code Pink are among the 19 companies that have signed the open letter, inviting the organizers, participants and sponsors of Saudi Ladies International Golf Tournament to block the event.  The competition is expected to take place between 12 and 19 November at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club, in a commercial area 120km north of Jeddah, although it was originally scheduled for March.  The spread of the new coronavirus pandemic had forced the organizers to freeze the event.

In the document published on October 22, activists ask to reconsider the involvement and denounce the violation of human rights in the Wahhabi kingdom.  "

Domestic and international viewers from 55 countries worldwide will watch female players compete for a hefty cash prize [.5m], while women’s rights defenders in the kingdom languish in prison, without access to legitimate legal redress,” the groups said in the letter.  “While we acknowledge that such tournaments represent an important milestone in women’s golf, we are deeply concerned that Saudi Arabia is using this sports event as a public relations tool to sportswash its appalling human rights record, including the discrimination against women and the crackdown on women’s rights defenders".  Among the examples mentioned are women who have ended up in prison over claiming the right to drive, and still under arrest, such as Loujain al-Hathloul, Samar Badawi, Nassima al-Sadah, Nouf Abdulaziz and Mayaa al-Zahrani.

Saudi Arabia is governed by an absolute Sunni monarchy, based on a Wahhabi fundamentalist view of Islam. Over the past two years, the Crown Prince’s social reforms included granting women the right to drive cars and to attend sporting events in designated areas of stadiums. However, the authorities have also cracked down on senior officials, business people, activists and critical voices, most notably in the Jamal Khashoggi affair, and the discovery of secret dissident courts cast a shadow over the veracity of this change.

Ines Osman, director and co-founder of Mena, underlines to Middle East Eye that "sports and events do not represent progress if they are not accompanied by significant reforms" in the sphere of rights, on the contrary they represent "a means to clear one's conscience".  "'It is shameful that we have not seen more high-profile athletes refusing to attend events in Saudi Arabia'".

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