For the first time in the history of the games, Saudi Arabia is allowing women to compete on their country's Olympic team during the 2012 summer games in London. We are truly making great strides. Wait, Saudi Arabia only did it because the International Olympic Committee threatened to bar them from the London Olympics unless they allowed female competitors? And they're only letting one woman compete, and that's only if she lives outside of the country while she trains? Oh.
The Jerusalem Post reports that Anita DeFranz, current head of the IOC's Women and Sports Commission, has warned Saudi Arabia that any country that didn't allow women to compete in the Olympics wouldn't be allowed to send a delegation of athletes to next summer's games. In response, the Middle Eastern kingdom's respective Olympic Committee has announced that women are welcome to join the Olympic team. As long as they don't actually live in Saudi Arabia.
The IOC isn't singling out Saudi Arabia; Brunei and Qatar, the two other countries who have never sent a female competitor to the Games, were also called out. Saudi Arabia was the last to respond to DeFranz's warning.
The most likely woman to be Saudi Arabia's first female Olympian is 18-year-old equestrian Dalma Rushdi Malhas, who has competed without country affiliation in international riding competitions. Of the possible Olympic berth, she says,
I didn't care much about me being there as a representative of Saudi Arabia, because anyone could probably do that. But getting a medal was the key, and that's not easy for anyone, and I wanted that - and only that gives recognition to my country.
A ringing endorsement!
Saudi Arabia currently bans sports and physical education in girls' schools. There's no national organization to promote female athletics. Thus, it's not surprising that Saudi Arabia's support for the IOC's push for female involvement is... tepid. One official said,
[If] some of the female athletes who are living in Europe qualify to the Olympics through international federations or IOC, then we will step in to support them.
I mean, if women want to do sport type things and they're good enough, I guess we won't be mad.
Dear Bob Costas: I dare you to make that heartwarming.