It appears that Saudi Arabia will not send female athletes to London this year as part of its official Olympic team. But the kingdom doesn’t mind if they go on their own.
Earlier reports had said at least one athlete – equestrienne Dalma Rushdi Malhas, a bronze medalist at the 2010 Youth Olympics in Singapore – would make the team. However Saudi news reports quoted Saudi Olympic Committee President Prince Nawaf bin Faisal as saying that the kingdom does not approve of sending female athletes to the Games.
Al Riyadh and Al Watan newspapers quoted the Prince as saying that women are free to participate on their own, and the Saudi Olympic Committee would only act to ensure that their participation conforms to Islamic Sharia law.
The International Olympic Committee has been negotiating with the Saudis to include women on its team. ”We are still in discussion and working to ensure the participation of Saudi women at the games in London,” the IOC told The Associated Press in an email on Thursday.
Last month, IOC President Jacques Rogge told the Associated Press that he had positive indications that the Saudis would send female athletes to London. The New York-based Human Rights Watch has criticized the kingdom for its exclusion of women from organized sports. Late last year, the head of the IOC’s Women and Sport Committee, American Anita DeFrantz, criticized Saudi Arabia – along with Qatar and Brunei – for being the only three nations never to send female athletes to the Olympics.
A formal proposal for participation of Saudi women was scheduled to be submitted to the IOC executive board in Quebec City next month.
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David Byrd is a journalist, writer, video editor and photographer. He is also the host of VOA's American Cafe, a weekly show covering life and culture in the United States.