Saudi Women to compete in Olympics for the first time
Female Saudi Arabian athletes will be allowed to compete in the London Olympics for the first time this summer following speculation that they may face disqualification over gender discrimination issues.
The Saudi embassy in London gave a statement, saying that the country’s Olympic committee will “oversee participation of women athletes who can qualify”.
The only female athlete likely to qualify at an Olympic level is show jumper Dalma Rushdi Malhas, who won a bronze medal at Singapore’s 2010 youth Olympics. She wasn’t nominated by Saudi Arabia but was invited by the International Olympic Committee.
The decision was taken earlier this month by Saudi Arabian ruler King Abdullah, although the announcement was delayed owing to the fact that heir to the throne Crown Prince Nayef passed away.
A Saudi Official is quoted saying: “It’s very sensitive. King Abdullah is trying to initiate reform in a subtle way, by finding the right balance between going too fast or too slow… he allowed participation on of women in the Shura council (an advisory body) so the Olympic decision is part of an ongoing process, it’s not isolated.”
Other athletes beside Malhas could be selected to participate in the Olympics. If so, their outfits are likely to consist of loose fitting sportswear and a “sports hijab”, which is a scarf that covers the hair but not the face.
Olympics minister Hugh Robertson has previously said that he had no power to intervene if Saudi Arabia wouldn’t allow female athletes to compete this summer: “You are always balancing the conservative elements in Saudi Arabia against those who want to reach out,” he said. “But of course I would very much like to see Saudi women competing in London.”
Saudi Arabia joins Qatar and Brunei as three countries that are sending their first female delegations to London this summer. Qatar will be sending a three-woman team to London made up of shooter Bahia Al-Hamad, swimmer Nada Wafa Arakji and sprinter Noor Al-Malki. Brunei will be sending hurdler Maziah Mahusin.