Countries to have at least one woman in Olympics

Three Muslim countries — Saudi Arabia,Qatar and Brunei — to field women competitors for first time

Written by New York Times | New York | Published: March 22, 2012 12:31:02 am

The Summer Olympics in London could be a watershed event for international sports as every participating nation is expected to field at least one female athlete,including three Muslim countries —Saudi Arabia,Qatar and Brunei — that have previously sent only male competitors.

Saudi Arabia,a monarchy whose legal system is based on Islamic law,is considered the most significant of the three,given its size,international oil influence and severe restrictions placed on women in daily life. While female athletes from Qatar and Brunei have participated in national and regional competitions,Saudi Arabia has essentially barred sports for women,according to Human Rights Watch.

A pan-Arab newspaper based in London,Al-Hayat,reported Tuesday that the Saudi Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz has approved the participation of female athletes in London as long as their sports “meet the standards of women’s decency and don’t contradict Islamic laws.”

The International Olympic Committee said in a statement that it met with Saudi Olympic officials last week and that it was “confident that Saudi Arabia is working to include women athletes and officials at the Olympic Games in London.” Qatar and Brunei have previously signalled an interest in sending female athletes to London.

An official with Human Rights Watch said he believed that at least one Saudi female athlete would compete in London,which he called a modest first step. “While tokenistic participation is welcome,it wouldn’t change our position that the IOC should affect more systemic change,” said Christoph Wilcke of Germany,a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch’s Middle Eastern and North African division.

Wilcke was the lead author of a blistering,51-page report issued last month by Human Rights Watch that detailed the struggles facing female athletes in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has faced widespread criticism in the West for its general treatment of women,who must receive permission from male guardians to gain employment,get an education,open a bank account,get married and travel abroad. Effectively,they are forbidden from driving automobiles.

A list of several potential athletes for the London Games was presented by Saudi officials to the IOC last week. A formal proposal for the inclusion of female Saudi athletes at the London Games will be made to the IOC’s executive board in Quebec City in late May.

One possible entrant is a teenage equestrian,Dalma Rushdi Malhas,who won a bronze medal at the 2010 Youth Olympics in Singapore.

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