After much back and forth, Saudi Arabia will finally send two female athletes to the Olympics for the first time. A runner and judoka will be representing the Kingdom in the London 2012 Games, the International Olympic Committee said.
"This is very positive news and we will be delighted to welcome these two athletes in London in a few weeks time,” said IOC President Jacques Rogge.
It almost did not happen.
On June 24, Saudi Arabia announced for the first time that it was going to allow female athletes to compete in the Olympics. According to the BBC, the decision came after secret meetings held earlier that month in Jeddah, where “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” on women participation.
At the time, all eyes were on showjumper Dalma Malhas, who won a bronze medal in the Youth Olympic Games in Singapore in 2010, and was seen as the country’s most likely representative. However, her mother told the Guardian that Dalma would not be able to compete in London because her horse was injured.
This seemed like a convenient way out for Saudi officials. By saying they don’t mind women participation but don’t have any female athletes qualified to compete, they can avoid an Olympic ban while at the same time avoid the rage of powerful clerics in the country who oppose competitive sports for women.
To appease the clerics, Saudi most senior sports official Prince Nawaf bin Faisal announced a set of rules for women’s participation at the Olympics. Athletes can only take part if they do so “wearing suitable clothing that complies with sharia” and “the athlete’s guardian agrees and attends with her,” he told local daily al-Jazirah. “There must also be no mixing with men during the Games,” he added.
Although the IOC said they remained cautiously optimistic of the Saudi women participation, they sounded very doubtful.
“I cannot guarantee it 100 percent,” Rogge told the AP on July 4, despite ongoing negotiations with Saudi officials. Four days later, the pan-Arab Saudi daily Al-Sharq al-Awsat quoted a Saudi official saying there is no “female team taking part in the three fields.” But human rights organizations urged IOC to ban Saudi Arabia from the London Games if they don’t send women.
“It’s not that the Saudis couldn’t find a woman athlete – it’s that their discriminatory policies have so far prevented one from emerging,” said Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch.
On July 11, an unnamed Saudi official from the embassy in London denied media reports that no female athletes from his country will compete in the Games, telling the BBC “that a ‘shooter’ and ‘a runner called Alia’ are under consideration for London 2012.”
This turned out to be half true. Saudi Arabia will send two female athletes to London, but not the two mentioned by the embassy official.
Thursday, the IOC announced the names of the two Saudi female athletes to compete in London Olympics this summer: Wejdan Shahrkhani in judo above 78kg, and Sarah Attar at the 800m race.
Attar said she is honored to represent her country at London 2012 and hopes her participation will encourage Saudi women to get more involved in sport.
“A big inspiration for participating in the Olympic Games is being one of the first women for Saudi Arabia to be going,” she told the official Olympic website.
In the video published on the IOC website, Attar appears wearing a grey headscarf, with a loose-fitting long sleeves top and black sweatpants. She apparently did that to comply with the rules set by the Saudi government. A photo on her school’s website shows Attar in regular athletics gear, without a headscarf.
Attar was born and raised in Escondido, California. Her father is Saudi, her mother is American, and has been to Saudi Arabia only a couple times. She is a college student at Pepperdine University, where she is a a sophomore majoring in Art.
Attar has a message to Saudi women: “To any woman who wants to participate, I say ‘go for it and don’t let anyone hold you back’,” she said. “We all have the potential to get out there and get going.”
20 thoughts on “End of Drama: Saudi to Send Women to Olympics”
What happened to the video? Did the link become disabled? I was able to watch it, but can’t seem to share anymore. Any new links?
Reblogged this on Drop by Drop We Fill the Pot.
Very good news! Good step forward! I’m happy for that!
Are they going to be entries in the ‘Niqab Relay’? How are they going to compete with all that heavy gear on? This should be a laugh!
I wish them the best…just being able to compete in the Olympics is an honor and sets a precedent. Hats off to all of those who relentlessly esp the human rights groups who applied pressure to this issue and did not give up. That alone is victory!
I hope that more country resources will be set aside to facilitate girl’s and women’s sports in the future. God bless and God protect!
“it’s that their discriminatory policies have so far prevented one from emerging”. Minky Worden’s comment here are spot on, the issue at play here is not the lack of Saudi Arabian females participating in the Olympics, it’s the policies in the Kingdom in place that keep women down over there, and making it difficult to find a suitable female athlete. I remember people making a huge stink some years ago over a female organized soccer tourney, and the religious nut-jobs still weren’t having any of it.
It’s about time reform and change comes to Saudi Arabian women, and we should show them all the support they will need.
Reblogged this on dragstoashes.
i really don’t understand one thing about Saudi pupil what they think about themselves im really amazed about the fact this nation is called the nation of HAZART MUHAMMAD SAW they when don’t know how to talk with elders or younger.The one thing i hate most about them they keep as telling that HAZART MUHAMMAD free HAZART BILAL from slavery but Saudis are forgetting one thing that what is this iqama system is about then what is this niqat system is about then.If our NABI have saved pupil from slavery know they are salving non other then there own Muslims brothers
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