Saudi princess heads new sports department for women
The kingdom is sending four female athletes to take part in the Olympic Games in Rio
Saudi Arabia’s Sarah al-Attar (right) competing at the Olympic Games in London. She is one of four female athletes Saudi Arabia is sending to the games in Rio this month. Photograph: Olivier Morin/AFP/Getty Images
Saudi Arabia’s cabinet has appointed a prominent princess to head a new department for women under the kingdom’s General Authority for Sports in a move that could signal greater female access to sport.
The announcement, made after the weekly cabinet session, offered no details about Princess Reema bint Bandar’s role.
Physical education is not on the curriculum for Saudi girls in public schools and ultraconservative clerics shun women’s exercise as “immodest”.
Women’s teams are not part of the kingdom’s federation that oversees sports, and stadiums are male-only.
Even so, the kingdom is sending four female athletes to the Olympic Games in Rio, marking the second time that Saudi women will participate in the Olympics.
The General Authority for Sports’ website lists no details about its activities or mission. A separate government portal shows the agency is responsible for issuing licences to establish new sports centres and handles youth registration in sports.
In a decree in May, King Salman ordered the General Presidency for Youth Welfare to be renamed the General Authority for Sports. The former body had sponsored cultural and sports activities for youth.
Princess Reema, whose father Prince Bandar bin Sultan served as Saudi ambassador to Washington for more than two decades until 2005, is a graduate of George Washington University with a degree in museum studies, Islamic art and architecture.
In the kingdom, she is widely known for having served as chief executive of the upscale Harvey Nichols department store in the capital, Riyadh, which was among the first retailers to hire women as sales clerks.
Also this week, Saudi newspapers reported that a court in the Eastern Province has approved the appointment of the country’s first female commercial arbitrator. It marks the first time a woman has been appointed to such a post.
There are no female judges in Saudi Arabia and only a handful of women have been granted licences to practise law.