On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Still not so sporting

Male spectators were banned, including male members of the press. It made no difference if daddy wanted to cheer his daughter; he would have had to shout from outside the stadium. 

The only exception was Mentri Besar Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, who was present at the opening ceremony.  

Being the state’s top politician does have its privileges. The gender-segregation rule applied to everyone else. 

This is an extension to the lights-on ruling in cinemas and the requirement for supermarkets to have separate checkout counters for male and female customers.  

The same ruling applies at concerts sanctioned by the Islamist government. 

But the Nisa’ Games was nothing more than just a political event.  

With the general election coming up, the PAS government is again playing the religious card to project its conservative image. 

The thrust of the event was to showcase the need to wear the tudung (headscarf), as the leadership emphasised in the party newsletter Harakah

According to Kelantan Women Development, Youth and Sports Committee chief Abdul Fattah Mahmud, the state had started to design special sportswear for its participants in the Sukma Games 2008. 

Specially invited for the Nisa’ Games was Asia Games 200m champion Ruqaya Al Ghasara, who captured world attention by winning the sprint event wearing a tudung, which the PAS government wants to promote. 

It is, of course, within the right of PAS politicians and women athletes who want to wear headscarves. No one should oppose that right. 

Similarly, no one should be coaxed or pressured into wearing a headscarf, especially non-Muslims, for ceremonial purposes and in the name of uniformity. 

It is the same with women athletes who wish to wear light clothing for the sake of comfort as well as for health reasons, especially in our humid weather. 

The strangest, if not the most hypocritical, reason given by PAS was to protect the dignity of women. 

This is from a party that banned its women members from standing as candidates in elections “to guarantee their safety and dignity,” to quote Nik Aziz himself. 

The ruling of March 1999 was to prevent women from bergeser (coming in contact) with men, and that there were groups out to “disturb” women campaigners during elections. 

Two months later, PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Aziz Hadi Awang said the party did not want to expose women “to the crudeness of the campaign trail because we want to protect their dignity.” 

In August, another PAS leader Subky Latif said it would be “strange” for women politicians “to leave their husbands at home” while they “move around campaigning or serving the people.” 

But there was a change of heart in the 2004 general election. PAS fielded a woman candidate, Rohani Ibrahim, in the Tanjung Mas state constituency, which she won. Another woman candidate Kalsom Othman lost in the Pasir Putih parliamentary constituency. 

Since then, the party has allowed young professionals such as Datuk Kamaruddin Jaffar and Datuk Husam Musa into the leadership but they have to struggle against the clerics who still cling on to power. 

These upstarts understand the reality of having to shed their ultra-conservative image and policies if they want to win more seats but the older leaders seem to adopt a safer approach by playing up the holier-than-thou image among their followers in Kelantan and Terengganu. 

Besides needing the decisive votes of non-Muslims, PAS leaders have to grapple with modernity. 

As Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Azalina Othman said, PAS had been looking down on women. “They don’t allow their women to wear lipstick. They say women must stay at home, listen to their husbands and not go out because they would attract vice.” 

Puteri Umno chief Datuk Noraini Ahmad correctly questioned the purpose of banning men from the Nisa’ Games when Nik Aziz was present and that video cameras were recording the event. 

The decision by PAS to field two women candidates in the 2004 general election appeared to be a reluctant one. Even when a woman candidate won a seat, she wasn’t good enough to head the state committee for women development. 

Let’s see whether PAS leaders like Hadi and Nik Aziz will be more sporting in politics in the next election.