Saudi gives nod to female athletes at Olympics

Conservative Gulf kingdom to allow women to compete under Saudi flag for first time
Saudi gives nod to female athletes at Olympics
By Daniel Shane
Mon 25 Jun 2012 10:19 AM

Saudi Arabia is to permit female athletes to take part in the London 2012 Olympics, the first time the conservative Gulf kingdom has allowed women to compete in the tournament.

In a statement posted on the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in London's website, the Saudi Olympic Committee said it will “oversee participation of women athletes who can qualify”.

The country’s only female participant to qualify for the games, which starts on July 27, is likely to be equestrian contestant Dalma Malhas, who won a bronze medal at the 2010 Singapore Youth Olympics. She participated without the nomination of Saudi Arabia in that event, however.

In April, Prince Nawwaf al-Faisal, the Saudi sports minister and head of the Saudi National Olympic Committee, had said the Gulf nation would not be "embracing any female Saudi participation in the Olympics".

Earlier this year, Human Rights Watch released a report which set out how it sees the Saudi government systematically discriminates against women seeking to practice sports.

"The Saudi National Olympic Committee should be helping, not blocking, aspiring women athletes," said Sarah Leah Whitson, direction of Middle East and North Africa at the lobbyist group, at the time.

"This is a moment when the world should also tee up pressure to roll back discriminatory practices more broadly."

Female involvement in sport is an extremely contentious issue in Saudi Arabia, which closed down private gyms for women in 2009 and 2010.

The country is one of three nations to have never sent female athletes to the Olympics, along with fellow Gulf state Qatar and the Sultanate of Brunei.

Qatar is also planning on sending female competitors to this year’s games.

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Last Updated: Thu 26 Jan 2017 01:27 PM GST

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