A Saudi Arabian newspaper says the ultraconservative kingdom will not send women the London Olympics, weeks after saying it would.
Al-Watan newspaper quoted Prince Nawaf, the head of the Saudi Olympic Committee, saying the kingdom opposes sending female athletes to the Olympics for the first time. But he left room for Saudi women to compete on their own outside the official delegation, a plan that may not satisfy demands by the International Olympic Committee.
A similar arrangement was made at the Youth Olympics in 2010 for Saudi equestrian competitor Dalma Rushdi Malhas to participate. She won a bronze medal in show jumping.
Officials at the Saudi Olympic Committee could not be reached for comment.
Saudi will not stop its women competing in Olympics-paper
Saudi Arabia will not prevent its female citizens from competing in the Olympics, but it will not officially endorse them, the head of the country's sporting authority was quoted as telling a newspaper.
The remarks may represent a compromise between Saudi Arabia's religious hardliners and its social reformers amid international pressure for the conservative Islamic kingdom to enter a woman athlete for the first time at London 2012.
"We don't endorse any Saudi female participation in the Olympiad and international tournaments," al-Riyadh daily quoted Prince Nawaf bin Faisal, head of the General Presidency of Youth Welfare, as saying.
"Female Saudi participation will be according to the wishes of students and others living abroad. All we are doing is to ensure that participation is in the proper framework and in conformity with sharia," he was reported to have said.
Top Saudi clerics who hold government positions and have always constituted an important support base for the ruling al-Saud royal family have spoken against female participation in sports.
In 2009 a senior cleric said girls risked losing their virginity by tearing their hymens if they took part in energetic sport.
Last month the International Olympic Committee said it was "confident" that the world's top oil exporter was working to send a female athlete to the games after a campaign by Human Rights Watch.
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.
Physical education is banned in girls' state schools in the kingdom, but Saudi Arabia's only female deputy minister, Noura al-Fayez, has written to HRW saying there is a plan to introduce it.
Prince Nawaf acknowledged there was a growing demand for sports among Saudi women.
"There are now hundreds or thousands who practice sports but in a private way and without any relationship to the General Presidency of Youth Welfare," he said.