A small step forward

Stuff reports:

is to send female athletes to the for the first time, with a judoka and an 800m runner representing the kingdom in London, the International Olympic Committee said.

Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani, who will compete in the 78-kg category in judo, and teenager Sarah Attar will be the first Saudi women ever to take part after talks between the IOC and the country.

“This is very positive news and we will be delighted to welcome these two athletes in London in a few weeks time,” said IOC President Jacques Rogge in a statement.

“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.”

Thursday’s decision means that every country competing in the July 27-Aug. 12 Olympics will be represented by both male and female athletes.

At the Atlanta Games in 1996, 26 nations sent no female athletes, the figure falling to just three in Beijing in 2008.

Progress, but said we are 12 years into the 21st century and this is still an issue.

In recent months human rights groups urged the IOC to ban Saudi Arabia from the Games unless it agreed to send women.

Powerful Saudi clerics denounce women for taking part in sport, saying it goes against their nature.

Women in Saudi Arabia are regarded as minors and require the permission of their guardian – father, brother, or husband – to leave the country and in some cases even to work. They are not allowed to drive.

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, California.

“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,” she told the official Olympic website (www.olympic.org).

Hopefully it will be a powerful symbol to Saudis, and a building block to a less repressive regime.

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