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Mon 19 Mar 2012 04:01 PM

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IOC “confident” Saudi will send female athletes to London

Olympic organisers receive list of potential female athletes from KSA Olympic Committee

IOC “confident” Saudi will send female athletes to London
The Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee has submitted to a list of potential female athletes. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

The organisers of the London 2012 Olympics say they are “confident” Saudi Arabia will send female athletes following a “constructive meeting” with representatives from the Gulf kingdom.

In a statement released today, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee had submitted to them a list of potential female competitors.

The IOC confirmed that it had held talks with the Saudis in Lausanne last week in which both female participation and the conservative kingdom’s “culture and traditions” were discussed.

The meeting also focused on the possibility of Saudi Arabia sending female officials as part of its Olympic delegation, the IOC statement added.

Members of the IOC will now assess the level of each female athlete submitted for consideration by the Saudis, before a formal proposal is made at the next meeting of the IOC Executive Board in Quebec City in May.

Saudi Arabia, where strict gender segregation is still enforced, is one of only three nations to have never sent a female team to compete in an Olympic tournament, along with Qatar and Brunei.

This led to criticism by a senior member of the UK government last month, who accused Saudi Arabia of breaching the spirit of the Olympic Games by refusing to bring a female team to compete.

Tessa Jowell, the former culture secretary and Olympics minister, and now a member of the Olympic Board urged the conservative Gulf state to review its attitude towards women and sport.

“[Saudi Arabia is] clearly breaking the spirit of the Olympic Charter’s pledge to equality,” Jowell said in an interview with The Guardian newspaper, adding the London Games would provide “the perfect opportunity” for the country to move forward.

Lobbyist group Human Rights Watch criticised Olympic organisers for their tolerance of gender discrimination by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei, all of which have never sent a female to participate in an Olympic Games.

“The fact that women and girls cannot train to compete clearly violates the Olympic Charter's pledge to equality and gives the Olympic movement itself a black eye,” Christoph Wilcke, senior Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement, referring specifically to Saudi Arabia.

“’No women allowed,’ is the kingdom's message to Saudi women and girls who want to play sports,” he added.

Saudi Arabia closed private gyms for women in 2009 and 2010 and severely limits their ability to undertake physical activity, said Human Rights Watch.

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