Maldivian sportswomen have alleged discrimination in the government’s selection of sports teams to compete at the upcoming South Asian games in India.
The ministry of youth and sports, citing lack of funds, decided on Sunday that the women’s football, basketball, tennis and handball teams will not travel for the games in February. Of the 76 athletes slated to compete in the games, only 27 will now be women.
The men’s basketball, handball and table tennis teams were also cut out. But the men’s football and tennis teams will compete. Eight male athletes will participate in athletics, but female athletes were left out.
Both men and women’s volleyball, badminton and shooting teams will participate. Meanwhile, the women’s table tennis team was selected to travel, but the men’s team was not.
A resolution passed by the all male national sports council said the government only wants to send teams that can compete with other regional teams.
Mariyam ‘Mayan’ Mohamed, the coach for the women’s team and a member of the Asian Football Confederation women’s committee, said she was saddened and angered by the sudden decision.
“Sportswomen in Maldives are not professional athletes, they play because of their love for the sport. These women practice at dawn, pick up extra shifts at work while taking care of their children as well. A decision made within one hour has made this entire year a flop for them,” she said.
“There isn’t a single woman on the ministry’s sports council,” she said.
A player from the Women’s handball team told the Maldives Independent that they were aiming for a silver or bronze medal: “We’ve been practising at dawn and dusk, seven days a week, and we know we can reach the semi finals. The government says women are a priority, but this shows otherwise.”
Shizna Rasheed, a member of the women’s football team said: “We should be able to go without being discriminated for gender, which is so common with everything we try to do here. After trying to get ready for long it is very frustrating for us not to be able to compete.”
Ahmed Marzooq, the Olympic Committee’s General Secretary, said he too was disappointed by the decision.
“The decision was ultimately taken by the ministry of youth and sports. The government wants medals,” he said. Marzooq added that he had advocated for gender equality in selecting athletes.
The men’s sports teams have also expressed concern with the decision, noting that the South Asian Games presented an opportunity for Maldivian athletes to compete with regional teams.
There will be 23 sports disciplines for the South Asian Games, which is often hyped as the South Asian version of the Olympic Games.
Improving sports infrastructure is a key campaign pledge of President Abdulla Yameen. The government has pledged to build futsal and bashi courts in populous islands.
After Maldives won eight medals in the Indian Ocean Island Games in August, Yameen announced cash prizes for athletes who win medals in international sporting events.
The Maldives won one gold, two silvers and five bronze medals. It was five sportswomen who won all the bronzes.
The government announced that it would award monthly salaries to professional athletes and sportsmen and women included in the national squads.