Saudi official denies issuing permits for women’s sports clubs

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A Saudi government source on Wednesday denied licensing women’s sports clubs in the kingdom, saying a ministerial committee has not yet reached a decision on whether to allow them.

“We receive many requests from businesswomen specifically, but the only thing I can confirm is that there’s a high-profile ministerial committee ... meeting regularly” to discuss the issue, Abdullah Zamel of the General Presidency of Youth Welfare told Al Arabiya.

The media is circulating merely the recommendations delivered at these meetings, he said.

The Saudi al-Watan daily had said the kingdom would license women’s sports clubs for the first time, adding that the government had set up a ministerial committee to allow them.

Women’s exercise facilities are usually licensed by the Health Ministry, and are designated as “health centers,” reported Reuters.

Permits issued by the ministry are for physiotherapy centers, sources told Al Arabiya.

Women’s sports clubs are operating in the country under different names, Saudi businesswoman Madawy al-Hasoun told Al Arabiya.

Such clubs operating in the kingdom are considered illegal, Zamel said.

Women in the ultra-religious country face numerous restrictions.

Girls should be banned from playing sports so as not to “lose their virginity,” a member of the kingdom’s highest council of clerics said in 2009.

Female governmental schools do not offer exercise classes.

Saudi female athletes were allowed for the first time to participate in last year’s Olympics in London, after pressure from international rights groups.

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