Saudi Arabia women sport
The female basketball team of Jeddah United warm up in Jordan on April 21, 2009. Jeddah United is the only private sports company with women's teams.

The Saudi government has been urged to review a state school ban on sports for girls.

The recommendation was made by Saudi Arabia's Shura Council, which advises the government on policy.

The council said the longstanding ban, which was partially lifted last year, should be scrapped.

The board cited a ruling by the kingdom's late top cleric, or grand mufti, Sheikh Abdel Aziz bin Baz, according to which women were entitled to play sports "within the limits set by Islamic law".

Although the council's decisions are not binding, they are seen as important in Saudi Arabia, because it is the only official forum in which new laws and government policy on sensitive social issues are publicly discussed.

Members who supported the council's decision pointed to an increase in obesity-related illnesses in Saudi Arabia, particularly among women.

Those who opposed the decision said many schools were not equipped for girls' sports. Some members also questioned whether physical education lessons had decreased obesity in boys.

Saudi authorities closed private gyms for women in 2010, and women are effectively barred from sports arenas by strict rules banning men and women mixing in public.

The issue of Saudi women in sport came under the spotlight at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, when the kingdom sent female athletes to compete for the first time, following international pressure.

Despite their participation, Human Rights Watch said that millions of Saudi women remained effectively barred from sports.

Under strict interpretations of sharia law, Saudi women are banned from driving and must gain formal permission from a male relative to leave the country, start a job or open a bank account.

They are also denied doctor appointments if not accompanied by a male guardian.