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Men-only Saudi team ‘backward step’

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SAUDI-MEN-4x400MINCHEON, September 18- A leading rights group slammed Saudi Arabia on Thursday for taking a “backward step” by not including women in its Asian Games team.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) called for Saudi Arabia to end discrimination against women after taking a men-only squad of 202 to the event in South Korea.

“Two years after the London Olympics, the time for excuses is over,” Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW’s Middle East and North Africa director, said in a statement.

“Saudi Arabia needs to end its discrimination against women and ensure women’s right to participate in sport on an equal basis with men. 

“Refusing to send women to the Asian Games casts doubts on Saudi Arabia’s commitment to end discrimination and allow Saudi women to participate in future competitions.”

Saudi Arabia took two women to the 2012 Olympics, 800m runner Sarah Attar and judoka Wodjan Shahrkani, after lifting a ban on women competing in the Games.

The HRW statement said Saudi Arabia’s decision not to bring any women to the Asian Games was “a backward step for women’s participation in sport”.

It hit out at “discriminatory” policies in Saudi Arabia, where women are banned from driving and cannot get a passport, marry or enter higher education without permission from a male guardian. 

The criticism of Saudi Arabia comes after two members of different teams were investigated for alleged sexual harassment at Asian Games sites.
An Iranian official had his accreditation withdrawn for verbal harassment and a Palestinian footballer was accused of groping a woman at a laundry in the athletes’ village.

Meanwhile, Qatar have sent a record 55 women in its 260 strong Asian Games delegation.

“Qatar is now focusing on giving a chance to women athletes to compete to represent their country in big sports events like this,” said delegation leader Khalil al Jaber.

“These 55 are not just here to take part but to be among the top places,” the official added.

Qatar had two women in their London Olympics team in 2012 — their first female Olympians — including shooter Bahia al-Hamad, who is the top female hope for Asian Games success.

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