Saudi women to take part in London Olympics
Riyadh, June 25, 2012
Saudi Arabia will enter women athletes in the Olympics for the first time ever in London this summer, the kingdom's London embassy said on Sunday.
Human rights groups had called on the International Olympic Committee to bar Saudi from competing in London, citing its failure ever to send a woman athlete to a Games and its ban on sports in girls' state schools.
Clerics in the kingdom have repeatedly spoken out against the participation of girls and women in sports.
Under King Abdullah, however, the government has pushed for them to have better education and work opportunities and allowed them to vote in future municipal elections, the only public polls held in the kingdom.
'The kingdom of Saudi Arabia is looking forward to its complete participation in the London 2012 Olympic Games through the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee, which will oversee the participation of women athletes who can qualify for the games,' said a statement published on the embassy website.
In April the head of the kingdom's General Presidency of Youth Welfare, the body that regulates sports in Saudi Arabia, said it would not prevent women from competing but that they would not have official government endorsement.
The IOC said on Monday that talks with the Saudis were 'ongoing' and that 'we are working to ensure the participation of Saudi women at the Games in London'.
The head of the kingdom's Olympic mission, Khalid al-Dakheel, told Reuters on Sunday evening however he was unaware of any developments allowing women to participate.
Perhaps the most likely woman candidate to compete under the Saudi flag in London, equestrian Dalma Malhas, represented the kingdom at the junior Olympics in Singapore in 2010, but without official support or recognition.
Physical education is banned in girls' state schools in the kingdom, but Saudi Arabia's only female deputy minister, Noura al-Fayez, has written to Human Rights Watch saying there is a plan to introduce it.-Reuters