The opening ceremony for the 30th Olympic Games in London was a striking and beautiful example of global unity, with arguably the most diverse setting in the world’s history having took place on Friday evening in the British capital.
Despite the praise for countries finally allowing women to participate in the Olympiad, Saudi Arabia once again showed where its women stand. In the back, quiet and covered.
After the nearly two hours of festivities, directed by acclaimed British director Danny Boyle, the athletes for the Games began to encircle the Olympic Stadium, flag in hand.
Qatar, which was surprisingly sending women to the Olympics for the first time, had one of their female athletes carry the flag. It was a positive sign that the tiny Gulf country is looking to bolster and improve the standing of women and sport.
Yet, shortly after, when the Saudi Arabia team came forward, the two female athletes participating in the London Games were far at the back, seemingly invisible. It sent a message to the world that although Saudi acquiesced to the pressure to allow women on their team, women would never be equal.
The women, dressed entirely in black, hair covered, were placed in the final row, behind the men in traditional garb. It was another sign that women in Saudi Arabia, despite competing at the international Games for the first time would not be treated as equals.
There were no looks behind from the male athletes. It was as if the women were invisible, unnoticed and disregarded. For many Saudi women this is the status quo, where they are to walk several steps behind their husband or male relatives.
“I was not shocked, really, because this is the same thing we see on the streets in Saudi,” a young Saudi university student in Dubai told Bikyamasr.com. “We might get to compete, but we are not equals. Not even close.”
It is yet another example of how far Saudi women must strive to gain acceptance in their own society. Not even on the grandest stage the world has to offer was there any semblance of equality. The Saudi Olympics officials made it clear that they would allow women to compete, but they would not allow women to stand upright, as equals, with their male counterparts.
A tough time for Saudi women indeed.