Last month, hopes were raised that Saudi Arabia would allow women to compete on their Olympic team, bringing the kingdom in line with Brunei and Qatar, which are sending their first female competitors to the London Olympics. But yesterday, Saudi Arabia reported that no Saudi women qualified for the London Olympics, meaning the Saudi Arabian Olympic team will continue to be all-male.
The news was confirmed by the pan-Arab daily newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat which announced that Saudi male athletes have qualified to compete in track, equestrian and weightlifting at the games but there would be no “female team taking part in the three fields,” said an unidentified Saudi official. The official added that no female athlete had taken part in qualifying events in Saudi Arabia.
Hope for a Saudi female Olympian had come to focus largely on Dalma Rushdi Malhas, a 20-year-old showjumper, but her participation in the games appears to have been cut short by an injury to her horse.
In June, Saudi Olympic officials announced that they were lifting a ban on women athletes representing the conservative Gulf monarchy at the Olympics but rights groups doubted the Saudis’ resolve. “It is 100% the case they knew she couldn’t compete when they made the announcement,” Minky Worden of Human Rights Watch told the Wall Street Journal after Malhas failed to qualify. HRW is one of the international organizations that has called for Saudi Arabia to be banned from the London Olympics if the country declines to send women athletes.
Worden added that the initial Saudi announcement of including females on their Olympic team “was total spin for the west… But on the other hand, it pins them down to finding a woman.” The latest news would suggest that Saudi Olympic officials have been unable, or unwilling, to place a female athlete on the team. Indeed, Saudi Arabia’s track record of discriminating against women and girls may have ultimately undermined the Saudi Olympic team’s ability to find a suitable female athlete.
“[H]aving banned its women and girls from engaging in sports at home, finding one who’s had access to Olympic-level training is a long stretch,” opined Lara Setrakian in the International Herald Tribune last week.