Saudi Arabia clears women for Olympic competition
The BBC reported Sunday that Saudi Arabia would allow female athletes to compete in the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
In a statement issued by the Saudi embassy in London, the country’s Olympic Committee said it would “oversee participation of women athletes who can qualify,” ending months of questions about whether the country would live up to promises it had made to the International Olympics Committee.
Earlier this year, Saudi Olympic committee head Prince Nawal bin Faisal had said women would be allowed to compete on their own, provided they did not violate Islamic sharia laws regarding attire, but that he was “not endorsing” women as part of his country’s delegation.
At the time, the move left Saudi Arabia as the only country barring women from competing, after Brunei and Qatar announced the inclusion of women on their national teams this year.
But according to the BBC, negotiations between various Saudi state and religious officials earlier this month led to the ban being lifted, with the death of Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz delaying an announcement.
A senior official described the process to the BBC as “very sensitive.”
“King Abdullah is trying to initiate reform in a subtle way, by finding the right balance between going too fast or too slow,” he said. “He allowed the participation of women in the Shura council [an advisory body] so the Olympic decision is part of an ongoing process, it’s not isolated.”