The announcement today that Saudi Arabia will be sending two female athletes to the London 2012 Olympic Games means that every National Olympic Committee (NOC) will have been represented by women at the Games.
The decision to send Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani (judo, + 78kg) and Sarah Attar (athletics, 800m) follows earlier confirmation by Brunei Darussalam and Qatar — the only other NOCs yet to send female athletes to the Games — that they would also have female athletes competing at London 2012.
The two Saudi athletes, invited to the Games by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), were entered by the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee by the official deadline of 9 July.
Attar, 17, said she was honoured by the prospect of competing for her country at London 2012. “A big inspiration for participating in the Olympic Games is being one of the first women for Saudi Arabia to be going,” she said at her training base in San Diego, USA. “It’s such a huge honour and I hope that it can really make some big strides for women over there to get more involved in sport.”
The news was also welcomed by IOC President Jacques Rogge, a long-time advocate of gender equality in sport. “This is very positive news and we will be delighted to welcome these two athletes in London in a few weeks’ time,” he said. “The IOC has been working very closely with the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee, and I am pleased to see that our continued dialogue has come to fruition. The IOC has been striving to ensure a greater gender balance at the Olympic Games, and today’s news can be seen as an encouraging evolution. With Saudi Arabian female athletes now joining their fellow female competitors from Qatar and Brunei Darussalam, it means that by London 2012 every National Olympic Committee will have sent women to the Olympic Games.”
Brunei Darussalam has entered Maziah Mahusin (athletics), while Qatar has entered Nada Arkaji (swimming), Noor Al-Malki (athletics), Aya Magdy (table tennis) and Bahiya Al-Hamad (shooting).
Qatar’s Al-Hamad has been tapped not only to compete at London 2012 but also to carry her country’s flag during the Opening Ceremony. “I’m overwhelmed to have been asked to carry the Qatari flag at the Opening Ceremony,” she said. “It’s a truly historic moment for all athletes.”
The IOC has worked for many decades to promote women in sport, both on and off the field of play. The goal of gender equality is enshrined in the Olympic Charter, the guiding document for all Olympic organisations, while defining strategies to dismantle gender barriers is the primary goal of the IOC’s Women and Sport Commission.
Fifteen years ago at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, 26 NOCs had yet to include female athletes in their delegations. Four years ago in Beijing, the figure had dropped to just three – the three NOCs that have confirmed they will be sending female athletes to London 2012, thus marking a historic milestone in Olympic history.
The Olympic Games have seen female participation rise from 1.8 per cent at London 1908 to 9.5 per cent at London 1948 and more than 42 percent at Beijing 2008. The latter figure is expected to be improved upon again this summer.
Another milestone in the fight for gender equality in sport at London 2012 will be the inclusion of women’s boxing on the Olympic programme, ensuring that women will compete in every sport for the first time in the 116-year history of the modern Olympic Games.