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Thursday, August 9, 2012

Sarah Attar, running for Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia broke with tradition and sent a female team to the Olympics for the first time.  There were two members, Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani in Judo and Sarah Attar in track and field.

As the second last runner crossed the finish line of the 800m heat, the stadium announcer said "And 150 metres to go for Sarah Attar."  The crowd recognized what it meant and gave her a standing ovation.  She didn't get into the final but it didn't matter, she had made her point, she was running for all the Saudi girls who are still not allowed to participate in school sport.

She was born in California to an American mother and Saudi father who said "To see how the crowd reacted when she was running was very touching and very exciting."  She runs at Pepperdine University near Los Angeles and usually trains as a long distance runner but it was decided she should run in a shorter event.

"She's a dream come true for a lot of female athletes who dream about coming here but didn't have the opportunity" her coach said "She's also a dream for a lot of generations to come."

Shahrkhani's appearace in the Judo last Friday was frowned upon by the Kingdom's Islamic clerics who said she "dishonoured herself"  by fighting in front of men, including the male referee and judges.  Religious police enforce rigid Islamic Sharia law on the streets of Saudi Arabia and women can't travel without permission or drive a car but they will be allowed to vote in 2015.

Three Islamic countries - Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei all brought female athletes for the first time and the London Olympics is the first in history where every nation is represented by a female athlete.

Editor in chief of a Saudi-based sports newspaper Ahmed al-Marzooqi said "I think her run will support our cause here, they showed to the people and religious authority in Saudi that women in sports do not clash with Islamic tradition and Saudi society."