Saudi Arabia has decided to send a female participant in the 2012 Olympics, mostly due to pressure from without:
“It’s very sensitive,” a senior Saudi official told the BBC. “King Abdullah is trying to initiate reform in a subtle way, by finding the right balance between going too fast or too slow.
“For example, he allowed the participation of women in the Shura council [an advisory body] so the Olympic decision is part of an ongoing process, it’s not isolated.”
The official acknowledged that to refuse to let women take part would have looked bad on the international stage.
And Saudi Arabia was one of three countries the others were Qatar and Brunei who in 2010 were threatened with being barred from these Olympics if they did not allow women to compete.
Saudi women will of course be expected to dress according to religious norms, though this shouldn’t be a problem for the one Saudi competitor who has already qualified: showjumper Dalma Rushdi Malhas. The other two countries, it would appear, aren’t quite so worried about lustful glances from the crowd. Qatar, in fact, is sending a swimmer: Nada Akraji will compete in the women’s 50-meter freestyle. And while she is not expected to win a medal, Brunei’s runner Maziah Mahusin, who finished last in her qualifying heat for the 400-meter dash, will be participating.
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