LONDON (AP) — Saudi Arabia could send female athletes and officials to the Olympics for the first time after talks with the IOC on a list of potential competitors for the London Games.
Saudi Arabia is one of three countries that have never included women on their Olympic teams, along with Qatar and Brunei. The International Olympic Committee is now hopeful that all three will send female representatives to London, marking the first time every competing nation does so.
“The IOC is confident that Saudi Arabia is working to include women athletes and officials at the Olympic Games in London in accordance with the international federations’ rules,” the IOC said Monday.
The IOC said it held a “very constructive meeting” last week with Saudi Olympic Committee officials in Lausanne, Switzerland, about the inclusion of women in London and “Saudi Arabia’s culture and traditions.”
A list of potential female athletes was presented to the IOC, and those names will now be studied by the Olympic body and relevant international sports federations to assess their level.
The list includes four athletes, an Olympic official familiar with the talks told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks. At least three female officials are also being considered for inclusion in the Saudi delegation, the official said.
A formal proposal for the participation of Saudi women will be submitted to the IOC executive board at its meeting in Quebec City from May 23-25.
Because the women may not meet the international qualifying standards, the IOC may grant them Olympic entry based on “special circumstances,” the official told the AP.
The IOC wants more than one woman on the Saudi team, the official said.
IOC President Jacques Rogge said in an interview with The Associated Press last week that he was “optimistic” that Saudi Arabia would send women to London.
“It depends on the possibilities of qualifications, standards of different athletes,” he said. “We’re still discussing the various options.”
One potential contender for a place on the Saudi team could be equestrian Dalma Rushdi Malhas, who won a bronze medal in show jumping at the 2010 Youth Olympics in Singapore.
Qatar announced last month that it will use IOC wild-card invitations to send at least two women — a swimmer and sprinter — to London. Two others could be added to the list.
Brunei is also expected to include women this time, according to the IOC.
A recent report by Human Rights Watch accused Saudi Arabia of violating the IOC charter on gender equality. In interviews with Saudi women and international sporting officials, the group found that Saudi government restrictions put sports beyond the reach of almost all women in the Gulf nation.
In Saudi Arabia, deliberations of a select group of men on sending women to the Olympics remain wrapped in secrecy for fear of a backlash from the powerful religious establishment and deeply traditional society.
There are no written laws that ban and restrict women from participating in sports in the ultra conservative Muslim country that is the home of Islam’s holiest shrines. The stigma of female athletes is rooted in conservative tribal traditions and religious views.
Associated Press writer Barbara Surk in Dubai contributed to this report.