Updated: Nov 13
This is an opinion piece written by equitysport Founder; Tim Harper.
Next week, Saudi Arabia will play host to the state-sponsored ‘Women’s Week of Golf’ with a prize fund of US$1 million.
The Saudi Arabian ‘Women’s Week of Golf’ is just the latest example of how sport, for all the excited hyperbole about its ability to influence wider society will ultimately fail to impact anything beyond next weeks COVID secure bubble in the oil-rich, human rights crushing, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The gaggle of well-paid sporting evangelists associated with the event are eagerly pointing to the Kingdom’s recent commitment to make golf free for women, but have instantly turned their heads to the detail - that female membership is capped at 1000 golfers in the Kingdom, and with a female population of 10.2 million in Saudi Arabia, that represents a maximum, and deliberately constructed potential participation level of 0.01% in the sport.
Outside next week’s tournament, Saudi women are still prohibited from working, registering for education, or checking into a hospital without permission from a male relative. Recent, and much lauded law changes have given women the right to drive and travel without a male guardian, but the women who campaigned for these rights remain behind bars.
Earlier this month, Amnesty International highlighted the plight of 13 women’s rights defenders who remain on trial for the “crimes” of “promoting human rights”, “calling for the end of the male guardianship system” and for “contacting international organisations and foreign media”
“We take for granted a lot of the choices and freedom we have available to us but I try to make my decisions based on who I am as a person, not just a golfer. It’s obviously a huge tournament for us but this to me is about more than golf. I wish sport as a whole looked through a lens deeper than what benefits itself.”
Meghan MacLaren on refusing to partake in the tournament in Saudi Arabia.
Golf, like so many sports that have gone before them in Saudi Arabia, is getting played in a game it either doesn’t have the willingness to fully understand or the moral fibre to to take a stand against. It’s sportswashing, pure and simple - a calculated and sinister attempt to make reputational advances for a country clammering for international acceptance, whilst making little in the way of the substantive changes that would usher in that global embrace.
So whilst English golfer, Charley Hull naively exudes the “incredible backing for the women’s game” in Saudi Arabia, perhaps in a year when the mutuality of our shared destiny is all the more obvious thanks to COVID-19, we should be demanding more international awareness from our athletes and more action from sport - we're either all in this together, or not at all.
Women’s golf, and women’s sport is not just about women that look like us, talk like us and live amongst us, it’s about all women, Saudi Arabian women included. The privileged few that will travel to Saudi Arabia next week are undoubtedly being treated to opportunities beyond the wildest dreams of some that have gone before them, but at what cost?
Are we really content that opportunities to advance equality and equal opportunity in sport are left to such a power-crazed, torture-happy, free-speech crushing, and according to the UN; murdersome regime?
Are we happy to export the persuasive influence of our sporting stars to further the aspirations of a Kingdom so completely committed to pulling the wool over our eyes to the endlessly barbaric treatment of its own women?
For every time we turn our heads and choose to ignore the realities of what’s going on here, to the sports-washing, the superficial half-truths about equality, to the loose-lipped celebrations of false-progress through sport and the careful disregard for the plight of women in Saudi Arabia all the while advancing opportunities for a few of our own, we make an indelible stain on the moral fabric of world sport.
Sport, as an institution will eventually be left holding something truly unrecognisable, and by that point, we will have lost sport’s fragile standing as bastion and protector, a tool, and a vehicle for the enlightened advancement of equality, diversity and equal opportunity in and through sport.
equitysport supports the Human Rights Foundation’s call to the Ladies European Tour to fulfill its commitment to celebrating women’s rights and supporting local communities by urgently considering canceling this event, and using its platform to positively influence women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.
You can read HRF’s letter in full HERE
equitysport is a UK-registered charity (1189559) that exists to advance equality, diversity and equal opportunity in and through global sport. Through free-form development, education programmes and targeted advocacy the charity seeks an inclusive and equitable sporting ecosystem that lives up to the true values of sport.
Notes to Editors
For interviews or further comment, please contact the team via: firstname.lastname@example.org