Saudi Arabia will send two female athletes to the London Olympics, ending the ultraconservative Muslim country’s record of sending only all-male teams to the games, two officials with knowledge of the decision said Thursday.
The officials spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the decision hasn’t been publicly announced.
Meanwhile, Reuters disclosed the women’s names.
Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani, who will compete in the +78kg category in judo, and runner Sarah Attar will be the first Saudi women ever to take part at a Games after talks between IOC and the country paid off.
“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 working very closely with the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee and I am pleased to see that our continued dialogue has come to fruition.”
Meanwhile, the Saudi show jumper Dalma Malhas, was ruled out last month when the World Equestrian Federation (FEI) said the 20-year-old’s mare Caramell KS had been sidelined by injury for a month during the qualifying period and had missed a June 17 deadline.
The Gulf kingdom will also include female officials in their Olympic delegation for the first time, one of the officials said.
Qatar and Brunei, two other countries that have never sent any female athletes to the Olympics, are also including women on their teams for the London Games.
With the Saudis now following suit, it means all national teams competing in the games will include female athletes for the first time in Olympic history.
About 10,500 athletes are expected to compete in London, representing more than 200 national Olympic committees.
Saudi Arabia has been under pressure from the International Olympic Committee and human-rights groups to include women athletes. The IOC has been in negotiations with the Saudis for months on securing the participation of women.
Rights groups hailed the decision as a step forward for Saudi women in their quest for basic rights in a country that severely restricts them in public life.
“It’s an important precedent that will create space for women to get rights and it will be hard for Saudi hardliners to roll back,” said Minky Worden of the New York-based Human Rights Watch.
Qatar announced on Wednesday that one of its female athletes, shooter Bahiya al-Hamad, will be the country’s flag-bearer at the opening ceremony in London on July 27.
Saudi Arabia had been giving mixed messages about sending women to the games.
The Saudi Embassy in London said two weeks ago that women who qualify will be allowed to compete. But a report in a Saudi-owned newspaper earlier this week said that no female athletes have qualified for the Olympics and no women will be included on the team competing in equestrian, track and field and weightlifting.