Rory McIlroy defends playing golf in Saudi Arabia

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Rory McIlroy has forcefully defended the fact that golfers are playing in the Jeddah Championship tournament in Saudi Arabia, defending the right of players to do their job and “respect women’s decision-making process.” The world No. 3 golfer, whose attendance at the Saudi tournament in November has caused an uproar among feminists and human rights activists, told Arab News, “It is important to respect people’s cultural beliefs when you travel.

“In this case, I respect that women can drive, they have the right to do things outside the home and that is the case with men, so I understand there are cultural differences.” He did, however, add that “it is important to respect all those beliefs regardless of how you see the situation, whether it is a good or bad situation.”

The decision to hold the Jeddah tournament has already been condemned by several prominent female voices. “The Saudi golf program does not need Rory McIlroy, but we do need him speaking out on social issues,” wrote Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, last week, adding that “the incident over the golf tournament reflects the attitudes of Saudi officials who seek to paint the poor women of Saudi Arabia as poor, stupid, and worthless.”

Like many others, though, McIlroy, a three-time major winner, claimed he chose to play in the Jeddah tournament because “it is going to be a big week for us, we have a lot of sponsors and they are looking for major golfers to play.” He continued, “I believe that in the future golf is not just a golf tournament, it is about life and about understanding people.”

In light of McIlroy’s statement, members of Congress moved forward with a bill to ban the Saudi government from receiving U.S. aid until women in Saudi Arabia are able to drive and can make decisions independently of men. Republican congressman Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania introduced the Public Law 112-180 today in response to the Saudi government’s recent decision to allow women to drive.

Since the Saudi decision to allow women to drive earlier this year, hundreds of women have filled car registration counters at government offices hoping to obtain a driving license. The driving reform was made with great fanfare by the Saudi government, and yet only five percent of Saudi citizens have actually been allowed to get behind the wheel. Only half a dozen women have applied for a driving license at any time. Nevertheless, the Saudi government is allowing drivers to obtain a license within a year.

The charges of hypocrisy among big corporations and politicians concerning the story of Saudi women have long been part of the country’s relatively young history. Take, for example, the case of the Paris region and its predominantly female commuter trains, which were segregated from the rest of the train line so that male passengers were safe from gender-based harassment. Nor are the stories of Riyadh’s separate shower and laundry rooms at the spa, or the fact that the Saudi government puts female domestic workers through compulsory virginity tests, as well as spousal and identity checks upon arrival at the airport or home.

Read the full story at Arab News.

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