The head of the Saudi Olympic Committee has ruled out sending women athletes from the ultra-conservative kingdom to the London Olympics this summer, local dailies reported on Thursday.
Prince Nawaf bin Faisal said, however, that Saudi women taking part on their own are free to do so and the kingdom’s Olympic authority would “only help in ensuring that their participation does not violate the Islamic sharia law.”
“We are not endorsing any Saudi female participation at the moment in the Olympics or other international championships,” he told a press conference in Jeddah on Wednesday.
The Saudi official was reiterating a position he announced late last year, confirming that Saudi Arabia will be fielding only male athletes in London.
“There are hundreds, if not thousands, of (Saudi) women who practice sports, but in private,” he said, adding that the sports body has nothing to do with their activities.
Equestrian jumping contestant Dalma Malhas, 18, is likely to be Saudi Arabia’s only female athlete at this summer’s Olympics, according to media reports.
Malhas won a bronze medal at the 2010 Singapore Youth Olympics without having been nominated by her country, following an invitation from the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
The New York-based Human Rights Watch in February published a report damning the systematic exclusion of women from sporting activities in Saudi Arabia.
In July last year, the president of the IOC’s Women and Sport Committee, Anita DeFrantz, criticised Saudi Arabia, as well as Qatar and Brunei, for being the last three countries to have never sent female athletes to the Olympics.
Qatar, which is bidding for the right to host the 2020 Olympics, has already announced its firm intention to send female competitors to London.