Saudi Arabia to consider allowing women's sports clubs
Saudi Arabia has set up a ministerial committee to consider allowing women's sports clubs, al-Watan daily newspaper reported on Saturday, despite opposition from conservatives.
Abdullah al-Zamil, a senior official from the General Presidency of Youth Welfare, the top Saudi sporting body, said the committee was being formed to end the "chaos" surrounding women's sports clubs which are effectively unregulated, Saudi newspaper Watan reported.
"The mission of the committee is focused on building a system for these clubs," the paper, owned by a member of the Saudi royal family, reported Zamil as saying.
In the kingdom, powerful clerics have long argued against women playing sports or doing physical exercise, forcing female gyms to be designated as expensive "health centres".
State-run girls schools are banned from doing sports, but private girls schools are allowed to offer sports classes.
The General Presidency of Youth Welfare only regulates male clubs and its head was recently quoted saying he would not endorse Saudi women athletes at the 2012 Olympics.
The most likely woman candidate to compete under the Saudi flag, equestrian Dalma Malhas, represented the kingdom at the junior Olympics in Singapore in 2010, but without official support or recognition.
Saudi women are barred from driving and need the permission of a close male relative to work, travel or open a bank account, but King Abdullah last year said they could vote in municipal elections, the country's only public polls.