Last updated: 12 July, 2012

Saudi Arabia names first female Olympic competitors

Two female athletes from Saudi Arabia will compete at the London Games this summer in a historic first for the country, the International Olympic Committee said on Thursday.

The sportswomen — Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani (judo) and Sarah Attar (800m) — were entered by the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee ahead of the July 9 deadline.

“A big inspiration for participating in the Olympic Games is being one of the first women for Saudi Arabia to be going,” said Attar, 17, from her training base in San Diego (US).

“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.”

IOC President Jacques Rogge praised the Saudi decision which followed negotiations between the Lausanne-based organisation and the kingdom’s sports chiefs.

“This is very positive news and we will be delighted to welcome these two athletes in London in a few weeks’ time,” he said.

“The IOC has been working very closely with the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee and I am pleased to see that our continued dialogue has come to fruition.”

The development comes after Saudi sports executives declared at the beginning of July that Saudi sportswomen must respect the ultra-conservative kingdom’s rules.

All women competitors must dress modestly, be accompanied by a male guardian and not mix with men during the Games, Prince Nawaf bin Faisal told the Al-Jazirah newspaper.

Saudi sportswomen may only take part if they do so “wearing suitable clothing that complies with sharia” (Islamic law) and “the athlete’s guardian agrees and attends with her”, he said.

“There must also be no mixing with men during the Games,” he added.

Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei are the only three countries yet to send women athletes to the Olympics.

But all three countries will now be represented when the Games get under way on July 27.

“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,” said Rogge.