Describing talks with Saudi Arabia as “not an easy situation,” IOC President Jacques Rogge said the Olympic body is still working with the Gulf country on sending female athletes to the London Games.
Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei are the only countries that have never included women on their Olympic teams. While Qatar and Brunei have announced plans to take female athletes to London, the Saudis have not yet done so. “We are continuing to discuss with them, and the athletes are trying [to qualify],” Rogge said at a news conference at the close of a two-day IOC executive board meeting in Quebec City. “We would hope they will qualify in due time for the games.”
The conservative Muslim country has given mixed signals on the issue, with national Olympic committee president Prince Nawaf quoted in a Saudi newspaper last month as saying he does “not approve” of sending female athletes. “It’s not an easy situation,” Rogge said. “There is a commitment. We’re working steadily with them to find a good solution.”
Rogge ruled out the prospect, floated in Saudi Arabia, that women could compete in London under the Olympic flag rather than as members of the Saudi team.
“There is absolutely no need to consider the possibility of the participation of Saudi women under the IOC flag,” Rogge said. The IOC has come under pressure from human rights groups to impose sanctions against the Saudis if they don’t include women, but Rogge declined to talk about any penalties. “Wait and see,” Rogge said. “We do not want to enter into any hypothetical questions.” A recent report by Human Rights Watch accused Saudi Arabia of violating the IOC charter on gender equality. In March, Rogge told The Associated Press in an interview that he was “optimistic” that Saudi women would compete in London, but he was much more guarded on Thursday.
Saudi Arabia may not have women who meet Olympic qualifying standards, but the IOC is ready to grant them entry under special circumstances if needed. The number of potential Saudi female athletes for London is believed to be less than a handful.
If the talks with Saudi Arabia prove successful, it will be the first time in Olympic history that all national Olympic committees include women athletes at the games.