In the wee hours of Sunday morning, the Western Sydney Wanderers enjoyed one of the greatest moment in the history of Australian sport as they claimed victory in the Asian Champions League over Al-Hilal of Saudi Arabia.
But as the heroics of Ante Covic were visible for all to see, despite the best efforts of the home fans who were shining lasers in his face, there was one Australia in the crowd who was entirely conspicuous – Kate Durnell.
Durnell was one of just 14 Australian-based fans who traveled to Riyadh for the second leg of the final, with their beloved Wanderers holding a one goal advantage from the first leg at Parramatta Stadium. She was the only woman in the party.
Under strict Saudi law, even though Durnell is not a Saudi national – as a visitor, she is required to adhere to local law regarding women. She much be covered up and accompanied by a male family member at all times.
“I’ve had to buy an abaya, which is a dress, and a hijab,” she told the Parramatta Herald last week.
On top of her access to the country itself being very restrictive, the King Fahd International Stadium usually doesn’t offer access to women, and she had to seek special permission just to watch the game.
Which brings me to my point – the hoops in which people, especially women, have to jump through in strict Islamic countries are just bringing light to a far bigger issue; how women that are citizens of these countries are treated.
Just last month an Iranian woman was jailed for one year for attending a volleyball match. This is not an isolated incident. For the most part, women are treated appallingly.
During the Apartheid era in South Africa, other nations turned away in droves from competing in sporting events in or against South Africa. This was a move that seems completely understandable in hindsight – the treatment of blacks in that era was particularly heinous, in a country that has always struggled with racism.
But much like South Africa has always had a colour issue, certain parts of the Middle East have always had a problem with women. And instead of being strong and refusing to play ball, we are instead inviting some of the countries with the most appalling human rights records on the planet to take part in the 2015 Asian Cup – including Saudi Arabia, one of the only two countries (the other being Vatican City) that doesn’t allow women to vote.
To me, it doesn’t make sense. Especially in the football world, where the Australian women’s team has consistently been a shining light where the men have faltered. Change can only be facilitated with courageous decisions – and it could have been kick-started by turning some of these countries away from our shores…instead of welcoming them in and playing football with them.