Saudi women win Olympic rights at last
Saudi Arabia will allow its women athletes to compete in the Olympic Games for the first time ever in London this summer.
Human rights groups had called on the International Olympic Committee to bar the country from competing, citing its failure ever to send a woman athlete to the Olympics and its ban on sports in girls' schools. Powerful clerics in the country have repeatedly spoken against the participation of women in sports.
"This is a victory for Saudi sportswomen and hopefully it will promote sports and women's health awareness for the Saudi society," said Lina al-Maeena, co-founder of Jeddah United Sports Company, a rare women's exercise club that runs a female basketball team.
Saudi women will be able to compete in the Olympics only if they reach the qualifying standard for their event, and the Games opens in one month.
"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 on their London embassy website.
The woman most likely to compete under the Saudi flag, show jumper Dalma Malhas, was ruled out this week when the World Equestrian Federation said the 20-year-old's mare Caramell KS had been sidelined by injury for a month during the qualifying period and had missed a 17th June deadline.
Dalma won individual bronze at the junior Olympics in Singapore in 2010, but without official support or recognition.
In April, the head of the General Presidency of Youth Welfare, which regulates sport in Saudi Arabia, said it would not prevent women from competing but they would not have official government endorsement. He said the government's role would be limited to ensuring that Saudi women's participation "is in the proper framework and in conformity with sharia".
Top Saudi clerics, who hold government positions and have always constituted an important support base for the ruling al-Saud royal family, have spoken against female participation in sports. In 2009 a senior cleric said girls risked losing their virginity by tearing their hymen if they took part in energetic sport.
Published: 27th June 2012