IOC President Jacques Rogge said he was optimistic on the chances Saudi Arabia would send women athletes to the 2012 London Olympic Games and not be barred from participating as per IOC rules.
In an interview with The Associated Press in Switzerland, the IOC president said he the Olympics governing body was currently in discussions with Riyadh for the country to send women to the Games for the first time in its history.
He did not say how many athletes or from which sport would be sent.
Rogge said a decision should be finalized within a month to six weeks, but “we are optimistic that this is going to happen.”
Saudi Arabia has apparently flip-flopped in recent months over whether to send at least one woman to London.
Less than three months after the ultra-conservative Gulf country said it would permit women to participate in the London 2012 Olympic Games, in February it reportedly reneged on their agreement, barring women from entering the Games.
The move will also threaten the country’s overall participation in the Olympics, with the International Olympic Committee saying that all countries must field female athletes as part of their teams.
The decision has been roundly criticized by human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch (HRW), which said in a press release that the move is counter to the Olympic Charter, which says, “The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit.”
HRW said it shouldn’t be too surprising, however, as state-run schools offer no physical education for girls and only men belong to sports clubs in the country.
“In fact, government restrictions on women essentially bar them from sports,” a new report says, HRW reported.
The IOC Women’s Chair Anita DeFrantz warned the country in 2010 that if female athletes are not allowed to participate, the country could face being banned from the global competition.
Dalma Rushdi Malhas, an 18-year-old Saudi woman, was the likely choice for the competition. She won a bronze medal at the 2010 Singapore Youth Olympics and has the ability to compete at the highest level.
The OIC required each country to field at least one woman in the Youth Olympics and Saudi Arabia included Malhas in its delegation.
In response to comments by the International Olympic Committee, last year Saudi Arabia said it would not oppose participation by a Saudi woman in the London Olympics – but that it would not invite her as part of its official team.
“Human Rights Watch urges the International Olympic Committee to uphold the values of the Olympic Charter and condition Saudi Arabia’s participation in the London 2012 Olympics on the country taking steps to end discrimination against women in sports,” HRW said in their statement.