Sarah Attar Makes Olympic Track and Field History for Saudi Arabia in 800m, But Is It Enough?
Imagine The Outrage if The South African Delegation Made Its Black Athletes Walk Behind The Whites and Told Them To Not Give Interviews or Mingle With Whites
August 8, 2012
Sarah Attar made history today by becoming the first woman to represent Saudi Arabia at the Olympics in track and field.
Attar, an American citizen who attends Pepperdine University (a Christian University), finished dead last in her 800m heat in 2:44.95. This however was not about time, but about opening a small door for Saudi Arabian women.
Saudi women do not play sports and are total second class citizens. After some pressure from the IOC, Saudi Arabia agreed to send two women to these Games. Wojdan Shahrkhani competed last week in judo. While in London, both Shahrkhani and Attar are supposed to follow strict Sharia law and not talk to men they do not know and be accompanied in public by a male guardian.
Mark Zeigler of the San Diego Tribune wrote that male Saudi 1500m runner Mohamed Othman Shahween met Attar last week and said hello. When asked what Attar said to him, Shahween said, "Nothing," Shahween said. "She can't. She doesn't know me. She's not allowed to."
After her run, Attar likely made a few Saudi officials upset. First, she did not have a chaperone on the track. When she left the track, Lewis Johnson of NBC was standing nearby and low and behold she shook his hand (touching men is prohibited) and did an interview. She then did an interview with the BBC. British visitors can watch it here.
In the BBC interview Attar handles herself gracefully and says, "I just wanted to come out and do what I can and represent the women and hopefully make a difference over there."
When asked about being a part of history she said, "It's crazy to be apart of that but it's really going to be a huge first step for them." She added, "It was really about the cause and being here."
Attar then did not stop in the mixed zone where there are hordes of male media members. She did say, "It's an incredible experience" as she walked by unchaperoned.
As for Attar's running, LetsRun.com chronicled that before the Olympics here. Since then Attar has been getting some advice from 1984 Olympic 800m champion Joaquim Cruz who also coaches American Olympian Alice Schmidt. Schmidt met Attar yesterday for the first time and left impressed. Schmidt talked about Attar's momentous day saying, "This is such a giant step forward for all the women of Saudi Arabia. I wish I had been in her heat, I would have given her a huge hug at the finish line. She's just a really great person. Really nice, courteous. She's making a big move for the women of Saudi Arabia."
Attar is in a tough spot at the Games. She's an American who normally wears Western clothes (Pepperdine tried to scrub all photos of her off the internet to try and not upset Saudi authorities). Now she's supposed to walk around with a chaperone. Good to see her do an interview without him.
It's time for the IOC to stop supporting sexism. Gender discrimination should be treated no differently than racial discrimination. Can you imagine what would have happened if at the opening ceremonies, the South Africans walked out with all the whites coming first with the blacks behind them? How about for a start, the Saudi women come out first at the closing ceremonies? Come out before anyone else enters the stadium, that would be a step in the right direction.
Saudi Arabia can make its own laws. But if they want to treat women a certain way then they shouldn't be in the Olympics.
More Attar coverage: *LRC Meet Sarah Attar - Saudia Arabia's First Track & Field Athlete
*LRC Column/Editorial: Sarah Attar Makes Olympic Track and Field History for Saudi Arabia in 800m - But Is It Enough?
Race Recap: LRC Sarah Attar Makes History For Saudi Arabia As The Three Americans Advance
*LRC Sarah Attar Photo Gallery Here
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