03/02/2014 11:17 EST | Updated 05/02/2014 05:59 EDT

Canadian speedskater Cindy Klassen inaugurates West Bank women's gym

Canadian speedskater Cindy Klassen, a six-time Olympic medallist , has helped inaugurate a US$1.2 million indoor gym for Palestinian women in the biblical town of Bethlehem.

Women's participation in sports is still relatively unusual in Palestinian society, which encourages gender separation in much of public life.

Several women's soccer teams have formed, but they lack training facilities.

The 1,300-square-metre sports centre opened Sunday, with funding from Canadian Lutheran World Relief and the Mt. Calvary Lutheran Church in Calgary.

The centre will also offer space to volleyball and basketball teams as well as tennis players.

Winnipeg's Klassen, 34, says that "women here in the West Bank don't get many opportunities in sports." She says she hopes the centre will enable Palestinian women to train and build confidence.