IOC President Jacques Rogge is optimistic that Saudi Arabia will send female athletes to the London 2012 (Reuters) Olympics
IOC President Jacques Rogge optimistic that Saudi Arabia will send women athletes to London 2012 (Reuters)

Saudi Arabia is likely to send woman athletics to the Olympics for the first time this summer.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Jacques Rogge said he was optimistic that the country would drop its ban on female competitors in time for London 2012.

Details of how many athletes and for which sport or sports they will be competing in are still being worked out but a decision is expected within six weeks.

"We are still discussing with them on the practicalities, but we are optimistic that this is going to happen," Rogge said in an interview with the Associated Press. "It depends on the possibilities of qualifications, standards of different athletes. We're still discussing the various options."

A recent report by Human Rights Watch accused Saudi Arabia of violating the IOC charter on gender equality. Government restrictions place sports beyond the reach of almost all women in the Gulf nation.

Accordingly, Saudi Arabia may not have woman athletes who are able to meet Olympic qualifying standards, which means the IOC and international sports federations may have to offer them special conditions or look for other solutions.

Along with Qatar and Brunei, Saudi Arabia did not not send any woman to compete in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Last month, Qatar agreed to send at least two women to the Olympics for the first time. The IOC also expects Brunei to include woman this year, making it the first Olympics where every competing nation will have women athletes.

As recently as the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, 26 national teams did not include women.

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