i've just watched the first saudi women run at the olympics, in the 800 metres. in the previous heat, there was a palestinian woman. both women with their heads covered and fully clothed. they both came last, by a very long margin. but they were there, they took part, they were different, and it was ok. more than ok - the saudi woman really did get more cheers and support as she came in than the women who qualified for the next round. it brought tears to my eyes.
it's not that i don't see the flaws in the olympics. the fact that the most medals are won by the countries that have the most money to spend on sports. the fact that so many sports are inaccessible to so many different types of people - see this story about american gymnist gabby douglas & the struggle she faced (warning about the almost obligatory crotch shot in any story about young women gymnists). there are issues about vast sums of money spent on stadiums and venues - money that could used for relief of poverty. issues about corporates taking over the olympics, and the accessibility of being able to view all the sports - i would have loved to watch all the tennis, but i refuse to subscribe to pay tv, so i wasn't able to watch much of it. video of various events should absolutely be available on-line, especially given that so much public funding is put in to support athletes to attend.
but despite all of these problems, it still meant something to see these muslim women, on a public stage as it were, just being part of the event. it provides a narrative about us that is something different to the oppressed victims that permeates so much of the portrayal of muslim women. but more than that, it's so inspirational and motivational for muslim women around the world - inspiring us to achieve but on our own terms.
i've also been impressed by the good nature of the competition - the hand shaking & hugs, the support competitors have shown each other. it looks pretty genuine, and isn't something i recall in previous olympics. but i think it's really healthy.