Saudi Arabia's idea of a segregated Olympics was almost as silly as it was sexist

COMMENT: A proposal of having women competing in one country and men in another was put forward

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The Independent Online

It’s another booming serve but suddenly, sploosh! The ball lands slap bang in the middle of the Gulf of Bahrain and there’s no point getting angry about it because anyone with access to an even half-accurate naval map knows that’s clearly on the line.

When a consultant for the Saudi Arabian Olympic Association suggested earlier this week that they and Bahrain might launch a joint bid for a fully sexually segregated Olympics, the immediate reaction was one of derision.

“A commitment to non-discrimination” is mandatory for countries which want to host the games, the president of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach said, as he dismissed the idea out of hand.

It’s a pity he didn’t stop to think of the obvious logistical advantages. All right, so building two velodromes, two basketball courts, two athletics stadiums and the like might seem profligate. But splitting the mixed doubles court right down the middle, bisected by the 15-mile body of water between two independent sovereign nations, would certainly make the life of the line judges a damn sight easier. In the drink? It’s in. Who needs Hawk-Eye?

It was late last year that Bach drove through the reforms that will in the future allow for neighbouring countries to host the Games together, and who can blame Prince Fahd bin Jalawi Al Saud for his big idea? Saudi Arabia has always been a Mecca for Islamic pilgrims, but never for sports enthusiasts, and that needs to change.

There was a time when it was billed as the next big stag-do destination, until via a grainy Skype interview with Channel 4 News it emerged that the late king literally did lock up his daughters, so make no mistake, these guys need this.

Of course, the leaders of the free world need no convincing of the virtues of a nation that still beheads bloggers in public and bans women from driving, so quick were they to fall over one another in mourning the death of the Grand Executioner in Chief, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al Saud last week, but the wider global public clearly remains unconvinced.

What better chance, then, to reboot ones image than an Olympic opening ceremony? It was the deliberate pursuit of joyous international disbelief that forced our own octogenarian monarch to leap from a helicopter in the Stratford sky not long ago.

Similar Saudi-shaped hilarity could be far more simply achieved. Such jaw-dropping disbelief could be delivered merely at the sight of a young lady driving into the stadium at the wheel of a Nissan Micra, her be-burka’d bonce jovially lopped off as two strategically-placed misogynist princes spontaneously combust at the shame of it all, the Olympic cauldron is lit and the Games are on.

Other interesting challenges would present themselves too.

Pity the poor Saudi gamesmaker whose job it is to run after Usain Bolt as he sprints over an international border on the hunt for the Swedish ladies handballers. And even he might find, given the gulf that divides the nations, that Michael Phelps had got there first.

At least the consultant prince did acknowledge further “cultural constraints” that might make his project difficult.

Saudi Arabia, he said, “has a hard time accepting that women can compete in sports, especially in swimming. Wearing sports clothing in public is not really allowed. For these cultural reasons, it is difficult to bid for certain big international events.”

There are wider reasons it might find the whole thing a bit of a struggle. As host nation, the Saudis would be expected to enter competitors in every single one of the Games’ 302 events. This would mark a quite significant departure from the grand total of two women it has ever sent to any Olympics (one a judoka eliminated from London 2012 in just over a minute, the other an 800m runner who raced round the track in hijab and appropriately baggy clothing, losing by just under a minute).

The intersection between international sports and human rights tends to contort itself into a moral maze with only the gentlest prompting. Given the readiness with which the sporting world is currently snuggling into the cosy expansionist clutches of the Middle Eastern oil men, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised at the consultant prince’s audacity. At least the IOC were refreshingly straightforward about it.

Saudi Arabian women might be a lap behind on the running track, but their leaders are still in the Dark Ages, with their heads firmly stuck in the only place where the desert sun doesn’t shine. They are whole centuries of change from having the Olympic flame burn anywhere near them.

L’Oréal v Just For Men was surely worth a punt

Even by the standards of modern football, can there ever have been a quarter of a million quid more easily earned? David Ginola stood behind a sign for an attention-seeking bookmaker, told the world of his intention to run for Fifa president, never came even moderately close to convincing anyone who mattered to back him, then brought his campaign to an end.

Luis Figo, at least, is still hanging in there and it’s a pity really that the face of L’Oréal  won’t be giving the hair of Just For Men a run for his money.

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