Gyms for Saudi women face closure

April 27, 2009 12:00 am

, RIYADH, Apr 28 – Increasingly popular sports clubs and gyms for women in Saudi Arabia face shut-down because the government only licenses men’s clubs, a Saudi newspaper reported on Sunday.

Dozens of privately-established women-only gyms around the country, which strictly separates men and women outside family venues, could be closed because there is no regulatory authority for them, the Arab News said.

While the General Presidency for Sport and Youth Welfare has the authority over men’s gyms, it has not been allowed to regulate those for women, according to the report.

That means that the women’s gyms springing up in major cities are unlicensed and illegal, according to the report.

Female Saudi fitness fans frequently complain of the lack of places to exercise outside the home, since they cannot go to men’s clubs.

Saudi Arabia’s conservative brand of Islam strictly forbids the mixing of unrelated members of the opposite sex, and women in the presence of men not from their families must remain completely covered in the black abaya shroud.

Some investors have opened women-only gyms calling them beauty salons or, in one case, a "natural treatment clinic," Arab News said.

Lawyer Abdulaziz al-Qasim told the newspaper that no government department wants to take responsibility for the issue, lest they be attacked by conservative Islamic clerics, many of whom oppose sports activities for women.

The result, he said, is a move by the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs to shut down the existing gyms.

"It’s clear that one department is now taking the decision to put an end to the increasing number of unlicensed clubs," he said.


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