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SBD Global/June 26, 2012/Olympics

Saudis To Allow Women To Compete In Summer Games

Saudi Arabia will send female athletes to the Olympics for the first time at the London Games, according to Surk & Wilson of the AP. The Muslim nation is one of three countries which "have never included women in their Olympic teams." Qatar and Brunei are the others. The IOC said that talks have been ongoing with Saudi Arabia to "ensure participation." In a statement, the Saudi Embassy in London said, “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.” A Saudi official said that an announcement by King Abdullah about Saudi women’s participation in the Olympics "was expected some days ago, but was postponed" following the death of Crown Prince Nayef (AP, 6/25). In London, Andrew Johnson reported that female athletes would be "dressed to preserve their dignity." This would mean "loose-fitting garments and a scarf to cover hair but not the face." Also, there is "only one Saudi woman who competes at Olympic standard." She is 20-year-old showjumper Dalma Rushdi Malhas. (INDEPENDENT, 6/25). However, the AFP reported that Malhas has "failed to qualify and won't compete" in the Games. Int'l Equestrian Federation Secretary General Ingmar De Vos said, "There have been some reports in the media, but regretfully the Saudi Arabian rider Dalma Rushdi Malhas has not attained the minimum eligibility standards and consequently will not be competing at the London 2012 Olympic Games. However, we understand that the International Olympic Committee has a number of other female athletes from Saudi Arabia in other sports who are currently under consideration" (AFP, 6/25). The BBC's Frank Gardner reported that the decision to allow women to compete in the Olympics "is a huge step, overturning deep-rooted opposition from those opposed to any public role for women." For the past six weeks there have been "intense, behind-the-scenes discussions" led by King Abdullah, who has "long been pushing for women to play a more active role in Saudi society." In "secret meetings" in Jeddah, officials said that "a consensus was reached" in mid-June between the king, the crown prince, the foreign minister, the leading religious cleric, the grand mufti and others, to overturn the ban (BBC, 6/24).
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Olympics, Middle East

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