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Saudi Arabia to start granting licences for female gym operations

Saudi Arabia to start granting licences for female gym operations
February 15, 2017

After years of expectation, Saudi Arabia’s General Authority of Sports is to begin issuing licences for women’s gyms at the end of this month.

Three Saudi Government ministries are set to take part in the licencing process - the labour, rural affairs and commerce ministries – with licences to be issued to facilities that contribute to weight loss and fitness, such as swimming, running and bodybuilding.

Licenses will not be issued for gyms that offer competitive activities, such as football, volleyball, basketball and tennis.

The General Authority of Sports (GSA) reportedly aims to open gyms in every district and neighbourhood and will be holding workshops and seminars to motivate women to invest in gyms.

Previously religious authorities have objected to women’s fitness and recreational activities, although some facilities have operated unofficially.

The move constitutes progress in a country that has yet to introduce sport in public girl’s schools and has no public facilities for women’s sport.

At least two years in the making, the licensing rules reflect Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 plan for social and economic reforms that would rationalise and diversify the kingdom’s economy.

Vision 2030 plans involve streamlining government expenditure, including public health costs in a country that boasts one of the world’s highest rates of obesity and diabetes.

Princess Reema bin Bandar, Vice President for Women’s Affairs at the GSA, told local news outlet Okaz “it is not my role to convince the society, but my role is limited to opening the doors for our girls to live a healthy lifestyle away from diseases that result from obesity and lack of movement.”

Vision 2030 identifies sports “as a mainstay of a healthy and balanced lifestyle and promises “to encourage widespread and regular participation in sports and athletic activities.”

The licensing of women’s gyms is occurring even though Vision 2030 made no reference to facilities for women. The document also failed to even implicitly address demands by the International Olympic Committee and human rights groups that women be allowed to compete freely in all athletic disciplines rather than only ones mentioned in the Koran. 

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