Monday, the Saudi Arabian embassy in London annouced that the kingdom will allow its women athletes to compete in the Olympics for the first time.
The one likely female candidate, 20-year-old equestrian Dalma Malhas, took home the bronze in the 2010 Youth Olympics.
However, the Saudi Olympic Committee has not yet confirmed its sponsorship of women athletes, according to Laura Bashraheel, a journalist with the Saudi Gazette in Jeddah.
She doubts the validity of the embassy’s statement, and along with new reports that Malhas has dropped out due to an injury to her horse, it remains unclear whether Saudi women will actually compete in London this summer.
“There’s nothing official yet,” she says. “That’s the problem… there’s no official statement, which makes all of us really confused.”
The Saudi Olympic Committee’s last official statement concerning the participation of women was in April. It said that women may compete, but will not be sponsored by the government, according to Bashraheel.
This means that women “can compete under the Saudi flag but [are] not part of the Saudi Olympic Committee; not officially sent from Saudi Arabia, which makes it very complicated,” she says.
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Marco Werman: The conservative kingdom of Saudi Arabia has never sent women athletes to the Olympics, but this week the Saudi embassy in London said the kingdom would allow women athletes to go to the London Olympics as long as they qualify. One Saudi woman who was poised to compete was Dalma Rushdi Malhas. She is a 20-year-old equestrian who won a bronze medal at the Youth Olympic Games two years ago. But, today the International Equestrian Federation stated that Malhas will not be competing in London because her horse has suffered an injury. Laura Bashraheel is covering the story for the Saudi Gazette in Jeddah.
Laura Bashraheel: Well, there is nothing official yet, that’s the problem. According to the BBC report on Sunday, the Saudi embassy has sent a statement to the BBC that there’s the possibility to allow Saudi women to compete, but from the Saudi Olympics Committee and the General Presidency of the Youth Welfare in Saudi there is nothing confirmed yet. There is no official statement which makes us, all of us look confused.
Werman: I want to ask you about the case of this equestrian in just a moment, but what Saudi women athletes are currently poised to go to the Olympics if something official is green-lighted?
Bashraheel: We haven’t received any news about any women competing except for Dalma Malhas. She is the only one because she competed internationally before, but other women we know nothing of. That’s the problem. Now they’re saying that she’s not going to compete because of her horse injury, but she hasn’t come to the media. She didn’t discuss anything. She didn’t make any statement – an official statement that she’s going to compete or she’s going to be part of the Olympics. Nothing is confirmed yet. That’s why everything is so confusing with the Olympics. It’s after a month and nothing is confirmed yet.
Werman: Why is the Saudi government being so cagey about what women will compete and whether women will compete at all with just weeks away from the Olympic Games?
Bashraheel: Well, the latest statement was back in April from the Saudi Olympic Committee. The Saudi Olympic Committee won’t sponsor anyone officially but, if anyone wants to compete, Saudi Arabia will be fine with it but they’re not going to sponsor anyone.
Werman: Does that imply that if women go they’re going to have to cover their own costs to the Olympics and would they be able to participate – would they be able to compete under the Saudi flag?
Bashraheel: For example, if there is a Saudi student in a university in London who is doing any sport, she can compete in the Olympics under the Saudi flag but she’s not part of the Saudi Olympic Committee. She’s not officially sent from Saudi Arabia which makes it very complicated.
Werman: I was going to say it’s kind of them having their cake and eating it too, so the women are there kind of quasi Saudis.
Bashraheel: Exactly. They’re saying, “Okay, you want to compete; just do it on your own. We are not really sponsoring anyone.” Maybe it’s because of the whole pressure – the international pressure. The thing is true; we still need to focus on our internal issues of sports and allowing women to practice sports. I mean, the Olympics is a huge event so you can’t just send anyone who is playing in the courtyard. You know, an athlete has to have a whole team to prepare them for the Olympics.
Bashraheel: We don’t want to send anyone there, you know. I think Dalma Malhas is a good candidate. Hopefully, she’s going to participate but we’re still not sure of that yet.
Werman: Laura Bashraheel, a journalist with the Saudi Gazette in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, thank you very much for speaking with us.
Bashraheel: Thank you Marco.
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