Olympics: Saudi Arabia chooses four women for Rio

LONDON • The Saudi Olympic committee has approved four female athletes to compete as part of the conservative Gulf kingdom's team at the Rio Games starting next month.

Sarah Attar, Lubna Al-Omair, Cariman Abu Al-Jadail and Wujud Fahmi will become only the second group of women Olympians to represent Saudi Arabia, where women are barred from driving and are subject to a restrictive male guardianship system.

But the historic decision was complicated by the kingdom's thorny gender politics, as the official announcement of the Olympic team named only the seven men who would compete.

The announcements of the names of the male and female team members were made separately, given the sensitivities regarding gender segregation and women's athletics in Saudi Arabia, said Saudi Olympic committee chief executive Hosam Alqurashi.

The four women will be given wildcard entries so they can compete without meeting formal qualification standards, a spokesman said.

Saudi Arabia's Sarah Attar during her 800m first-round heat at the London Olympics in 2012. Attar will also run at Rio, where she will be joined by three other Saudi women competitors. PHOTO: REUTERS

Saudi Arabia entered two women under a similar arrangement for the 2012 Olympics in London, in what was a first for the Islamic nation.

Attar is a veteran of the London Games, where she ran in the 800m. She will be joined in Rio by Al-Jadail, who will run in the 100m. Omair will participate in fencing, while Fahmi will take part in the under-52kg judo event.

Women in Saudi Arabia face significant hurdles to take part in sport. They must wear head-to-toe garments in public, observe strict rules on gender segregation and obtain permission from a male guardian to travel, study or marry.

Women's gyms are not currently eligible for licences, making them scarce in the kingdom. Saudi Arabia's recently announced package of economic reforms set out the licensing of women's "sports halls" as a goal to be achieved by 2020.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 19, 2016, with the headline 'Saudi Arabia chooses four women for Rio'. Print Edition | Subscribe