By Claire Valdini
Head of International Federation for Equestrian Sports says decision to send females "symbolic"
HRH Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein, daughter of the late King Hussein I of Jordan, has praised the decision by Arab governments to send female athletes to the Olympics for the first time.
Speaking in her capacity as president of the International Federation for Equestrian Sports, Princess Haya said the move was “symbolic”, highlighting the dialogue between regional governments and the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
“I think it’s very symbolic… I think that the International Olympic Committee members in conjunction with Arab governments have worked incredibly hard to facilitate this happening and I think it’s historic in every way,” she said in an interview with CNN.
Princess Haya, the wife of Dubai ruler HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and a former Olympic athlete, said the decision was the culmination of decades of gradual change in attitudes towards women in sport in the Middle East.
“When we talk about a real change in the Middle East people still start to imagine that this is an occurrence that happened in five minutes [but] this is 30-40 years of sport building itself slowly,” she said.
“I think it's discussions between the Olympic committee and governments, I think it's agendas that have been put forward and I think it's layer upon layer of strategies.
“It’s definitely progress; anywhere women are taken seriously and given the opportunity that they deserve, I think that is progress and you can see that in the whole humanitarian sector and in sports,” she added.
Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei, the only three countries to have never sent women to the Olympics, this year put forward female athletes for the event.
Saudi Arabia, the last to agree to female participation, in July said it would allow Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shaherkani and Sarah Attar to compete in the +78kg judo category and the 800m, respectively, following negotiations with the IOC.
Olympic officials this week ruled that Shaherkani would be allowed to compete wearing a hijab, after threatening to pull out if she was not allowed to wear the Islamic headscarf.