Saudia Arabia hosts its first women’s marathon

Gulf News reports that Saudi Arabia just hosted its first women’s marathon, presumably as part of its professed liberalization of women’s rights. It wasn’t a full marathon, but 3 km—about 1.9 miles. It did excite a lot of interest among the women, though, as 2,000 signed up within hours, and 1,500 actually ran. That was a much higher registration than organizers assumed, so they had to close off entries. This shows that women in Saudi Arabia really are interested in sports, even though they’re often not allowed to participate in that sexist country.

But look how the women were forced to run! No wonder the winning time was 15 minutes (granted, a bit better than I could do in running shorts at my age). Click the screenshot to go to the article:

Yes, they are running in burqas or abayas, though, to facilitate breathing, I suppose the organizers let them dispense with veils.

All photos: Al Marsad

Here’s a video from Al Arabiya English:

You go, girls! This is an ineffably sad spectacle.

This photo of the winners epitomizes the inequity: look at the guy wearing a tee-shirt and shorts!

Is this progress? Well, of a sort. At least they can run, but if there were no dress code, do you seriously think the women would run in robes or sacks? Gulf News tries to make the best of this:

Women have made impressive strides in recent months in Saudi Arabia as the society is undergoing intensive changes that saw them organise tournaments and attend sporting events in major stadiums.

The kingdom has in recent months eased restrictions on women, including the lifting of a driving ban — set to go into effect in June.

In September, hundreds of women were allowed to enter a sports stadium in Riyadh, used mostly for football matches, for the first time to mark Saudi Arabia’s national day.

If they really want to make progress, let them deep-six the sharia law that counts a woman’s court testimony as half of a man’s, gives her half the inheritance of her brothers, and requires her to be accompanied by a guardian (and clad in a sack) when she goes out. Compared to that, sports is a thin veneer to make the world believe the kingdom is committed to women’s equality.

My friend Orli Peter, a psychologist, had the appropriate take, which is not to laugh but to mourn:



  1. Ken Kukec
    Posted March 5, 2018 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    I dunno, when it comes to distaff track outfits, I prefer that of the late, great Flo-Jo.

    • Posted March 5, 2018 at 11:23 am | Permalink


      Still, it doesn’t hold a candle of EWWWWW to Mario Cipollini and his <a ref "; meat suit

      • Posted March 5, 2018 at 11:24 am | Permalink

        I can’t html today. Here’s the link


        • Posted March 5, 2018 at 11:24 am | Permalink

          Arrrrggggg. SO sorry!

          • Diane G.
            Posted March 6, 2018 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

            It’s OK to post pictures now, mikeyc. Easier on readers, too. 🙂

            Meanwhile, re the suit–Arrrrggggg!

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted March 5, 2018 at 11:26 am | Permalink

      Let me hasten to add, it’s got nothing to do with cheesecake, everything to do, as the great folk sing Phranc put it, with being strong like an Amazon.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted March 7, 2018 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

      Interesting. Does her left leg, with the extra ventilation and slightly less inertia, run faster than her right? 😉


      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted March 7, 2018 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

        Let me add, contra mikeyc, cooool!

        ^ Politically incorrect grin

  2. Posted March 5, 2018 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    As a former marathoner, there’s a nit I feel I HAVE to pick. If it’s only 3km it is NOT a Marathon. Not even a metaphor for one.

    As you say, 15 minutes for 3k running in a non-competitive race in those ridiculous clown suits is actually pretty good.

    • Geoff Toscano
      Posted March 5, 2018 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

      I agree the time is excellent for being dressed in all that garb. Many runners elsewhere do, of course, dress in ways covering themselves, but it’s fun runners in fancy dress!

    • eric
      Posted March 5, 2018 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

      I’m really glad it wasn’t a longer race. Between SA’s weather, the heavy clothing, and the high likelihood that these are not regular runners, these events could easily produce a lot of heat stroke cases.

      I’m very glad they have the opportunity to run. And nobody should be laughing at them. But I’m also hoping that long runs in heavy clothing in desert heat does not become some symbol or representation of “freedom” merely because the Saudi government permits it. That seems almost Orwellian.

  3. glen1davidson
    Posted March 5, 2018 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    Looks like a step forward, however ridiculous the uniforms are.

    Glen Davidson

  4. Ken Phelps
    Posted March 5, 2018 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    The gigantic elephant in the room is the concept of women being “allowed”. Saudi politicians and businessmen should be publicly derided at every opportunity.

    • Posted March 5, 2018 at 11:33 am | Permalink

      Good point. The ladies should be grateful they’re allowed to do it, right? Ugh.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted March 5, 2018 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

        In particular, they should now shut up, take their running shoes off and get back to the kitchen.

    • Posted March 5, 2018 at 11:47 am | Permalink

      I think a better, more productive response would be to take the “win” and then, after a short rest, start pushing for the next liberalizing move. Demonizing them for “allowing” women to run doesn’t help anyone. It is the wrong attitude, of course, but those in control are not going to respond to bullying. There might be some real progressives in the leadership of Muslim countries but they have to work within the confining structure of religiosity and other bad ideas.

      • Ken Phelps
        Posted March 5, 2018 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

        I think people do respond to being held in obvious contempt by their peers. I’m a believer in Sam Harris’ idea of conversational intolerance. I don’t for a moment believe that the majority of Saudis involved in business have a strong commitment to this kind of idiocy. When the people that they have to deal with on a daily basis become a bigger problem to them than the religious nuts in their own country, then they may reign in those nuts.

        • Diane G.
          Posted March 6, 2018 at 7:30 pm | Permalink


  5. Posted March 5, 2018 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    Cue Linda Sarsour.

  6. ashdeville
    Posted March 5, 2018 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    I think we’re witnessing a new Olympic event!!

  7. mdeschane
    Posted March 5, 2018 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    The guy in t-short and shorts standing beside the podium with women in that ridiculous garb says just about everything one needs to say about this society.

    • Desnes Diev
      Posted March 5, 2018 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

      In the same picture, the woman giving prizes wears a robe or a burqa with Adidas (three-)stripes. How strange.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted March 7, 2018 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

        Presumably the Koran says nothing about sponsorship.


        • Diane G.
          Posted March 7, 2018 at 9:57 pm | Permalink


    • Posted March 5, 2018 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

      The photo of the man in shorts next to the award winners condenses the hypocrisy of this society.

      This society is marred by an inequality that can be viewed in plain sight. The men do not support the women. I see a parade of fraudulent equality and the men know it and the women are led to believe this is a breakthrough of some kind.

  8. janny11
    Posted March 5, 2018 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on PACIFIC ISLAND BEACON.

  9. W.Benson
    Posted March 5, 2018 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    A singularly unimpressive show of enlightenment values.

  10. Randall Schenck
    Posted March 5, 2018 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    I wouldn’t consider running 3k in the heat of Saudi Arabia let alone putting on that black sheet. It’s not running, it’s torture.

    • Posted March 5, 2018 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

      Well, I’m not so sure. For example. Surprisingly, the bish* is cooler to wear than Western clothing in the extreme heat and dryness of the Arabian desert. It is pretty amazing, actually. I am not sure about the burkas and abayas I’ve never worn one, but I can attest that the bish is quite a bit more comfortable in the heat than western clothing.

      Still, they’re just wrong to use for running. The weight is a serious issue as is mobility and they don’t shed heat well, which a runner needs to do.

      *transliteration of a Arabic word for a common male garment seen throughout the mideast; a long flowing robe with a head dress usually black or a dark color. Very much like the typical “thawb” -another typical type of Arab male clothing, also with a headdress but usually white and made with less material.

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted March 5, 2018 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

        White cloth, I’ll buy that but nothing black.

  11. Posted March 5, 2018 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    Never thought about it before, but maybe another possible reason for men requiring women having to wear sacks was to make it more difficult for them to run.

  12. Posted March 5, 2018 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    Incremental progress, but I fear that it might create a backlash – “well, we let this through and look what happened” …

  13. Posted March 5, 2018 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    “Impressive strides”

    No, they are extremely meager strides.

  14. KiwiInOz
    Posted March 5, 2018 at 11:35 pm | Permalink

    I remember doing sack races at primary school. But we tended to hop in them rather than wear them.

  15. Posted March 6, 2018 at 3:02 am | Permalink

    I don’t know how those women stand all that freedom. Very feminist of them. Linda Sourpuss, er Sarsour would be impressed at the liberation.

  16. Posted March 8, 2018 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    This is why we have the international women’s day.. At least it’s a step forward.

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