By Andy Sambidge
Sports minister says he hopes Gulf kingdom will reconsider stance on female athletes
British sports minister Hugh Robertson has urged Saudi Arabia to send its first females athletes to the Olympics in London this summer.
His comments came as the International Olympic Committee continues to hold talks with the Gulf kingdom about sending women to compete.
Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei are the only countries that have never included women on their Olympic teams.
"There have been slightly conflicting signals coming out of Riyadh,'' Robertson said in comments published by Associated Press.
"There was a less promising statement a couple of weeks ago. The IOC is working on the issue and is going to try to find a way so that some Saudi women are able to compete.
"You are always balancing the conservative elements in Saudi Arabia against those who want to reach out. Of course, I would very much like to see Saudi women competing in London."
Separately, Australian IOC member Kevan Gosper, who was visiting London to mark 100 days until the Olympic Games, told The Daily Telegraph he was confident a breakthrough would be made in the talks with Saudi Arabia.
He was quoted as saying: “Talks are ongoing between the IOC and the relevant people, more meetings are scheduled, and I am confident this will lead to Saudi Arabia including women in their team. For me it is imperative.”
The IOC had hoped Saudi Arabia was willing to select female competitors for equestrian events, where they would not breach the kingdom’s notions of “appropriate” clothing.
Human Rights Watch last week urged the IOC to put Saudi discrimination against women in sport on the agenda of its next executive board meeting in Quebec on May 23.
“The time is running out for hope that dialogue with Saudi authorities will lead to a change in discriminatory policies,” said Christoph Wilcke, senior Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch.