Saudi Woman in Olympics Displays Fight to Kingdom

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Strict gender segregation often relegates women to inferior facilities — if facilities for them exist at all.

"Today highlighted how much of a winner she is. In the face of not having any facilities, in the face of swimming upstream like a salmon she still had the ability to make it here," said Fatani, the Saudi who attended the match.

Fatani said his three sisters and mother pay $3,000 a month to be members in one of the handful of gyms for women in Saudi Arabia. For the average Saudi girl, physical education is not part of the curriculum in public schools and private gyms are too costly.

Thousands posted comments on Twitter Friday — both for and against — about the teenager from Mecca whose first time to ever fight in public was in the London Olympics.

Some have urged her not to jeopardize her place in the afterlife for a fleeting bit of fame on earth. Others warned that she and her family could face ostracism when she goes home. Others cast doubt on whether she was really Saudi, saying her appearance looked Central Asian.

Farani said Shahrkhani has proven she can cover her hair and play at an international event.

"That is the biggest slap in the face to anyone who says that being a Muslim woman is a hindrance to being an equal part in society," Fatani said.

In remarks carried on the Olympics website, Shahrkhani said her journey was only just beginning.

"Hopefully this will be the start of bigger participation for other sports also," she said. "Hopefully this is the beginning of a new era."

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