Two Saudi women to compete at Olympics Games

The IOC said the Judo fighter Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani and the 800-metre runner Sarah Attar will join the Olympic team in London.

The International Olympic Committee announced yesterday that Saudi Arabia will send two female athletes to London, meaning that the 2012 Summer Games will be the first in which every participating country will have a co-ed delegation.

The IOC said the Judo fighter Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani and the 800-metre runner Sarah Attar will join the Olympic team.

There was no official announcement of the female participation by the Kingdom by last night, and attempts to reach the Saudi Embassy in London and the National Olympic Committee in Riyadh for comment yesterday were not successful.

But the IOC President Jacques Rogge said in a statement that was “very positive news” that the two females would compete.

“We will be delighted to welcome these two athletes in London in a few weeks time,” he said.

The announcement comes after a flurry of reports and speculation about whether the Kingdom would send a female athlete, after its best-placed competitor, an equestrian, failed to qualify. Earlier this week, Saudi press reported that no other women had qualified, and a member of the Saudi National Olympic Committee confirmed that the country would send no women.

The IOC had repeatedly stressed that it hoped the Kingdom would take advantage of a waiver that allows athletes who have not met the qualifying standard to compete if they are the only representatives of their country.

Attar’s and Shahrkhani’s participation under that waiver was welcomed by sporting officials as well as rights activists, who had pushed for the Kingdom to send a co-ed team to London.

The president of the Judo Union of Asia, Obaid Al Anzi, said that his organisation knew of Shahrkhani’s participation before the official announcement and welcomed her taking part. “What’s important is that there is a lady from Saudi Arabia,” he said.

Nick Davies, the deputy general secretary of the International Athletics Associations Federation, said that his organisation, which governs track and field, “is delighted that one of the first women athletes from Saudi Arabia to compete in the Olympic Games will do so in the sport of athletics”.

“A big inspiration for participating in the Olympic Games is being one of the first women for Saudi Arabia to be going,” Attar, 17, said in an statement from her training base in San Diego, California. “It’s such a huge honour and I hope that it can really make some big strides for women over there to get more involved in sport.”

The Saudi sports minister and head of the Olympic committee, Prince Nawaf Al Faisal, was quoted by the local paper Al Jazirah on July 2 as saying that there were three conditions on any women participating: the consent of her male guardian, a guarantee that should could wear appropriate dress, and assurances that there would be no mixing of genders during the competition.

If Saudi Arabia sends its female athletes to London, it will be one of three countries to send its first women to the Summer Games. Qatar will field three female athletes and Brunei one. On Wednesday, Doha named one of the three women, the shooter Bahiya Al Hamad, as its flag bearer for the opening ceremonies.

* With additional reporting by the Associated Press

Published: July 12, 2012 04:00 AM


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