Saudi Arabia permits women to compete in Olympics
International rights groups had demanded Saudi be barred from the Games if they refused to allow women athletes from participating.
The Saudi Olympic Committee will “oversee participation of women athletes who can qualify,” the statement said.
The issue of women in sport remains extremely sensitive in the ultra-conservative Gulf Kingdom, where women are not allowed to drive and authorities closed private gyms for women in 2009 and 2010.
Equestrian Dalma Malhas is likely to be the country’s only female athlete to qualify for this summer’s Games in London which get underway on July 27.
Malhas, born in the United States, won a bronze medal at the 2010 Singapore Youth Olympics without having been nominated by her country, following an invitation from the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) Executive Director Ken Roth had issued a call this month for Saudi Arabian women to be allowed to participated in next month’s London Olympics by the ultra-conservative Gulf Kingdom.
“The Olympics launch in a month and Saudi Arabia stands alone in the world banning women from sport,” the message on Thunderclap began. “By refusing to allow women on their national team, Saudi Arabia violates the Olympic Charter. London 2012: Don’t let Saudi Arabia play unless their women can!”
Roth, in his message to both the world and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said that Saudi women have never before competed in the Olympics.
“Saudi Arabia’s discriminatory policies against women and girls in sport clearly violate the Olympic Charter,” he continued.
That Olympic Charter states specifically that “the practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind. [Any] form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.”
Roth’s HRW have been stalwarts in pushing for the Saudi government to allow women to participate in the global games, and while the IOC said last month it was optimistic over women being included, Saudi women remain on the outside looking in.
Roth added that “Saudi Arabia’s participation in the London Games should be conditioned on its playing by the rules,” which clearly states that a country that does have women on their team will be barred from participating.
The IOC Women’s Chair Anita DeFrantz warned the country in 2010 that if female athletes are not allowed to participate, the country could face being banned from the global competition.