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Middle East

Saudi Arabia could lift state school ban on girls playing sports

Council is asking that allowing girls to participate in sport is considered after ban on private schools was lifted

Authorities in Saudi Arabia have been asked to consider lifting a state school ban on sports for girls as part of a series of cautious social reforms in the ultra-conservative Kingdom.

Saudi Arabia's appointed Shura Council allowed female students at private schools to take part in sports last year, so long as they wear “decent clothing” and are supervised by female Saudi instructors.

The Council, which advises the government on policy, has now reportedly asked the education ministry to look into including sports for girls in state-run schools, according to the official Saudi Press Agency.

This would be under strict requirements that they should conform to Sharia rules on dress and gender segregation.

The Council's decisions are not legally binding, but they do act as the only official forum in which new laws and government policy on sensitive social issues are publicly discussed. King Abdullah appointed 30 women to the 150-member chamber for the first time last year.

Under a strict interpretation of sharia, Saudi women are banned from driving and must gain formal permission from a male relative to leave the country, start a job or open a bank account.

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Human Rights Watch called on the Kingdom to allow all girls, including public school students, the right to play sports in school.

Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch said: “All of Saudi Arabia’s women and girls should be able to enjoy the social, educational, and health benefits of taking part in sports.

“If the government can take down this barrier for private schools, it should give girls and women in publicly funded schools the same benefit.”

In 2012 Saudi Arabia included women in its Olympic team for the first time, a move that won support from many of its citizens but also prompted some to abuse the morals of the two female athletes, a runner and judoka, on social media.