At least in one case Saudi Arabia will be following Iran. Like the Islamic Republic, the Kingdom will, for the first time, be sending a burqa-clad women contingent to London Olympic. Iran has been sending women team not only in Olympics but also in other games too. After the 1979 Islamic Revolution the dress code changed.
Recently, its team participated in the Asian Cup Kabaddi in Patna (India) and ended runners up.
Muslim clerics in Saudi Arabia have always been opposing the participation of girls and women in sports.
However, under King Abdullah, the government has not only shown sign of opening up and sending women for higher education abroad it has also to send sports team. More and more number of women are participating in work force within the country. There is a woman minister too and they may be allowed to vote in municipal election in the future.
It needs to be recalled that human rights groups had sometimes back called on the International Olympic Committee to bar Saudi Arabia from competing in London, citing its failure ever to send a woman athlete to a Games and its ban on sports in girls’ state schools.
According to a statement published on the Saudi embassy website in London on Monday the kingdom of Saudi Arabia “is looking forward to its complete participation in the London 2012 Olympic Games through the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee, which will oversee the participation of women athletes who can qualify for the Games.”
This is a significant departure from the past as only in April the head of the kingdom’s General Presidency of Youth Welfare, the body that regulates sports in Saudi Arabia, said it would not prevent women from competing but that they would not have official government endorsement.
However, the head of the kingdom’s Olympic mission, Khalid al-Dakheel, said on Sunday evening that he was unaware of any developments allowing women to participate.
Even on Monday the IOC said that talks with the Saudis were ongoing and that “we are working to ensure the participation of Saudi women at the Games in London.”
Reports from Riyadh said that perhaps the most likely woman candidate to compete under the Saudi flag in London is equestrian Dalma Malhas. She represented the kingdom at the junior Olympics in Singapore in 2010, but without official support or recognition.
Saudi Arabia’s only female deputy minister, Noura al-Fayez, has written to Human Rights Watch recently saying there is a plan to introduce physical education in girls’ state schools in the kingdom.