Saudi Arabia to Send Two Women to Olympics: A First for Female Athletes

Sarah B. Weir, Yahoo! blogger

Sarah Attar

It's been a huge week for women and the Olympics. On Thursday, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that Saudi Arabia would be sending two women to the Olympics--a first for the conservative Muslim country. The decision means that every nation in the world with a team will be sending female representatives to the London Games. This follows the news on July 11 that, for the first time ever, more women than men had made it onto Team USA. The Gulf nations, Qatar and Brunei will also be breaking an historic gender barrier by sending female competitors.

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"This is very positive news and we will be delighted to welcome these two athletes in London in a few weeks time," IOC president Jacques Rogge said in a statement. The IOC had been negotiating with Saudi Arabia over this issue for weeks.

The two Saudi athletes are Sarah Attar, an 800-meter runner, and judo competitor Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani. Attar, who is only 17 and trains the United States, told the official Olympic website, "A big inspiration for participating in the Olympic Games is being one of the first women for Saudi Arabia to be going." She continued, "It's such a huge honor and I hope that it can really make some big strides for women over there to get more involved in sport." Sarah Attar is pictured above, no images of Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhan are available.

Related: Saudi Female Athletes Fear Crackdown After London

The participation of women in sports is still strongly opposed by ultraconservatives in Saudi Arabia. Four days ago, it appeared they would not be allowing women to attend the Games. Saudi Arabia is known for its restrictive laws pertaining to women and girls. Every woman, even widows, is required to have a male guardian, women are not allowed to drive, and most cover their faces in public. Saudi Prince Nawaf bin Faisal told Al Jazeera, the athletes must not mix with men at the games and will wear clothing that adheres to sharia (Islamic) law. They must also attend with their male guardian.

The development may open the door for more freedoms. "It's an important precedent that will create space for women to get rights," Minky Worden, of Human Rights Watch, told the BBC. "It will be hard for Saudi hardliners to roll back."

Historically, women's advancement in the Olympics has been slow. The ancient Greek games did not include women. The first time females participated in the modern Olympics was in Paris, 1900. In 1908, about 1.5 percent of the athletes were women. By 1984, that number had only grown to 23%. In the Beijing Games four years about, 42 percent of the participants were women and only three countries failed to send female athletes.

Sarah Attar is pictured above, no images of Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhan are available.

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