As the Olympic Games draw near, the media is abuzz with all sorts of issues – China’s human rights violations, harassment of Chinese media, the opening of protest zones in Beijing, all focused on China.  Even Iraq’s rejection from the Olympics got precious little media attention.

One story undoubtedly receiving the least attention is that of countries whose female population is banned from participation.  Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Brunei prevent their talented athletes from participating in the most revered athletic competition in the world (as well as official sports in their own countries, of course).  Iran severely inhibits women from participation; this year, only three Iranian women will represent their country at the Olympics.

From HAMSAweb’s C.R.I.M.E. (Civil Rights in the Middle East) report:

While the International Olympic Committee bans any gender discrimination, these Gulf countries invoke “cultural and religious” reasons for forcing talented female athletes to stay home.

“Cultural and religious” reasons might as well read “blatant misogyny.”  What kind of an example does it set for young women in those countries?  Young Saudi women, many of whom do play sports, deserve strong role models too – and why should those role models come from other countries?  Why should a young Saudi athlete have to idolize Nibal Yamout, Yekaterina Kramarenko, or Amy Acuff?  She shouldn’t have to; she should have a strong Saudi woman to look up to.

Frankly, I think those countries should be banned from the Olympics until they can recognize the value in allowing their women to compete.  Apparently, I’m not the only one who thinks so; Ali Al-Ahmed’s Op-Ed for the International Herald Tribune argues the same point:

The International Olympic Committee charter states that “any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, sex or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.”

But the Olympic Committee is failing to adhere to its own standards. While the hypothetical example of participating countries barring black athletes from the Olympic Games would have rightly caused international outrage, the committee continues to allow the participation of countries that do not allow women on their Olympic teams.

Al-Ahmed also encourages prominent female athletes to join in the cause and support their counterparts in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Brunei, the UAE and elsewhere.

Although I’m rooting for several athletes from my own country, I will also be cheering for the women of Morocco’s Olympic team.  Unfortunately, I missed the 2004 Olympics in Morocco (it was right after I went back to the States), and winter sports aren’t really Morocco’s thing. So when August 8th comes around, expect cheers for Khadija Abbouda (archery), Mina Aithammou, Bouchra Chaabi, Hasna Benhassi, Siham Hilali, Btissam Lakhouad, Asmae Leghzaoui, Lamiae Lhabze, Hanane Ouhaddou, and Mariem Alaoui Selsouli (track and field), Mouna Benabderrassoul and Ghizlane Toudali (tae kwon do), and Sara Elbekri (swimming).