Dalma Rushdi Malhas, tipped to become a pioneering woman competitor for Saudi Arabia at the London Olympics, has in fact failed to qualify and won’t compete, the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) said Monday.
“There have been some reports in the media, but regretfully the Saudi Arabian rider Dalma Rushdi Malhas has not attained the minimum eligibility standards and consequently will not be competing at the London 2012 Olympic Games,” FEI Secretary General Ingmar De Vos said in a statement out of Lausanne.
“However, we understand that the International Olympic Committee has a number of other female athletes from Saudi Arabia in other sports who are currently under consideration.”
Saudi Arabia, where public sports events for women are banned, has never fielded women in the Olympics.
Malhas, born in the United States, 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 FEI is very proud to have been the International Federation to field the first female athlete from Saudi Arabia at the Youth Olympic Games when Dalma won individual bronze in the Jumping, and we very much look forward to seeing her on the Olympic stage again,” De Vos said.
Malhas, 20, had been aiming to achieve the minimum eligibility standard required for the Olympic Games by the June 17 deadline, but her horse was sidelined by injury and missed a month’s work during the qualifying period.
The 12-year-old Swedish mare Caramell KS, which was bought from Swedish rider Svante Johansson at the end of 2011, was found to be suffering from a back problem, putting an end to her hopes of competing in London.
“It would have been a great opportunity to have a female athlete on the Saudi equestrian team,” Malhas’s mother Arwa Mutabagani said.
“But Dalma is young and she is determined to represent Saudi Arabia at the highest level, so we have great hopes for Rio 2016.”
Last week, the BBC reported that the Saudi Olympic Committee will “oversee participation of women athletes who can qualify” for the Games.
The issue of women in sport remains extremely sensitive in the ultra-conservative Muslim state, where women are not even allowed to drive cars and the authorities shut down private gyms for women in 2009 and 2010.
“It’s very sensitive,” a senior Saudi official told the BBC.
“King Abdullah is trying to initiate reform in a subtle way, by finding the right balance between going too fast or too slow.”
Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei are the only three countries never to have sent women athletes to the Olympics.
But Qatar has already announced it will send a three-woman team to London made up of shooter Bahia Al-Hamad, swimmer Nada Wafa Arakji and Noor Al-Malki, a 100m and 200m sprinter.
Brunei, meanwhile, will send a woman to London as part of their two-athlete delegation — 400m hurdler Maziah Mahusin.