Saudi confirms female athletes at Olympics

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Saudi Arabia will send two female athletes to this month's Olympics in London, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) confirmed today, just hours after reports in the Gulf state said only males would compete in the event.

According to an IOC statement, Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani will compete in the +78kg judo category, while Sarah Attar with enter the 800m middle-distance run.

The two will become the first ever female athletes to represent the conservative Arab kingdom at the Olympics.

“This is very positive news and we will be delighted to welcome these two athletes in London in a few weeks time,” said IOC President Jacques Rogge.

”The IOC has been working very closely with the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee and I am pleased to see that our continued dialogue has come to fruition. The IOC has been striving to ensure a greater gender balance at the Olympic Games, and today’s news can be seen as an encouraging evolution."

The two other nations to have never sent female participants to the games, Qatar and Brunei, earlier confirmed that they too would send athletes to the 2012 competition.

Saudi's confirmation that female competitors will take part follows a report in the kingdom's Al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper on Wednesday which said that “[no] female team [is] taking part in the three fields” for which male Saudi athletes have qualified: track, equestrian, and weightlifting.

The report prompted criticism from lobbyist group Human Rights Watch: “It’s not that the Saudis couldn’t find a woman athlete – it’s that their discriminatory policies have so far prevented one from emerging,” said Minky Worden, director of global initiatives.

“But there is still time for Saudi Arabia to do the right thing and allow women to participate in the London Games by including women in the ‘universality’ slots that don’t require advance qualification.”

It had earlier been suggested that Saudi could send 20-year old showjumper Dalma Rushdi Malhas to the competition. However, it was later confirmed that she would not attend due to failure to meet the minimum competence standard to tackle the Olympic course after her horse was sidelined due to injury.

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