Sarah Attar will compete in the 800m event, while Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shakrhan will take part in the judo event at the London Olympics. Two other athletes –a “shooter” and a “runner” –are also said to be under consideration. Their search for others continues.
Saudi Arabia had come in to question over their history of fielding men-only Olympic squads, with human rights groups and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) putting pressure on the Kingdom to amend their extremely conservative policy.
Saudi officials released statements claiming that this was not policy and, amid fears of boycott or backlash, began a search. The issue, the IOC and international broadcasters were informed, was that finding women of the sufficient Olympic standard was the problem.
Of course, this is endemic of a system where there is no tradition of female participation in sport. However, this move to include two female athletes demonstrates some Saudi willingness to seek change, if at least only to appease the international community.
The hope is that such a move will facilitate some cultural change, with more women being encouraged to take part in public sporting affairs. With other Arab states with male-only sporting histories, Qatar and Brunei, sending women as well, perhaps this is possible.
According to an Olympic spokesperson, this morning, “The IOC has been striving to ensure a greater gender balance at the Olympic Games, and today’s news can be seen as an encouraging evolution.
“With Saudi Arabian female athletes now joining their fellow female competitors from Qatar and Brunei Darussalam, it means that by London 2012 every National Olympic Committee will have sent women to the Olympic Games.”