WSJ: Two Saudi Women To Compete In Olympics
Published Saturday, 14 July 2012 13:50 | Written by Amwal Al Ghad
The concession by Saudi Arabia, one of the world's most religiously conservative nations, followed a campaign by human-rights groups to have the kingdom's male athletes banned from the games over its refusal to allow women to compete.
The move means that television viewers in Saudi Arabia -- where girls' sports and gym are effectively banned in public schools -- will see Saudi women openly competing in sports at the London Olympics before mixed audiences.
The breakthrough came after what International Olympic Committee officials said were months of negotiations with Saudi Arabia's Olympic committee, and after months of conflicting public statements from Saudi officials as to whether the kingdom would send women athletes to London.
The announcement was so last-minute that International Olympics Committee officials apologized for lacking basic information for the young women. "We don't know much about them," said Sandrine Tonge, an Olympic-committee spokeswoman.
The International Olympic Committee and websites at California's Pepperdine University identified one of the two Saudi-citizen competitors as Sarah Attar, a 17-year-old, California-raised and -trained track competitor at Pepperdine. Ms. Attar is an entrant in the 800-meter race.
Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani, who will compete in judo, trained in Saudi Arabia, Ms. Tonge said.
Telephone calls to officials of Saudi Arabia's Olympic committee seeking comment weren't answered Thursday.
A second International Olympic Committee spokeswoman, who declined to give her name, said both Saudi athletes were accepted under the Olympics' "universality" clause. It allows athletes who didn't meet qualifying times to compete when their participation is deemed important for reasons of equality.