Saudi Arabia to enter women for London Olympics

Saudi Arabia will allow its women athletes to compete in the Olympic Games for the first time ever in London this summer, the kingdom's London embassy said on its website. 

"I think this is a victory for Saudi sportswomen and hopefully it will promote sports and women's health awareness for the Saudi society," said Lina al-Maeena, co-founder of Jeddah United Sports Company, a rare women's exercise club that runs a female basketball team.

Under King Abdullah, the government has pushed for them to have better education and work opportunities and will allow them to vote in future municipal elections.

Saudi women will be able to compete in the London Olympics only if they reach the qualifying standard for their event, and the Games opens in just over one month, on July 27.

 "The kingdom of Saudi Arabia is looking forward to its complete participation in the London 2012 Olympic Games through the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee, which will oversee the participation of women athletes who can qualify for the Games," said a statement published on the embassy website.  

In April the head of the General Presidency of Youth Welfare, which regulates sport in Saudi Arabia, said it would not prevent women from competing but they would not have official government endorsement.  

The government's role would be limited to ensuring that Saudi women's participation "is in the proper framework and in conformity with sharia", he said.
 
The IOC said on Monday that talks with the Saudis were "ongoing" and that "we are working to ensure the participation of Saudi women at the Games in London".

The head of the kingdom's Olympic mission, Khalid Al Dakheel, told Reuters on Sunday that he was unaware of any developments allowing women to participate. 

Perhaps the most likely woman candidate to compete under the Saudi flag in London, equestrian Dalma Malhas, represented the kingdom at the junior Olympics in Singapore in 2010, but without official support or recognition.   
 

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