Olympics-IOC hopes all nations will send women to London Games

LAUSANNE, Switzerland, March 13 Tue Mar 13, 2012 1:57pm EDT

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland, March 13 (Reuters) - Three nations that have never sent women athletes to the Olympics might do so for this year's London Games, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said on Tuesday.

Saudi Arabia, Brunei and Qatar are the only countries to have never included female athletes in their Olympic teams.

"The IOC is working very closely so as to ensure the three countries that have never had women representation at the Olympic Games will send a representation, including Saudi Arabia," IOC director general Christophe De Kepper told reporters.

"It is too soon to say where we stand now but we are working hard. What we can say is that the three parties are very cooperative in finding a solution."

Human Rights Watch criticised Olympic organisers last month for what it said was their tolerance of gender discrimination by the Gulf Arab states of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, as well as the tiny southeast Asian nation of Brunei.

Qatar, bidding to host the 2020 summer Games, said last month it would send female athletes to the Olympics for the first time.

The IOC has offered Qatar wild card invitations for two female athletes to compete in London, swimmer Nada Arkaji and sprinter Noor al-Malki.

Sport in the patriarchal society of Saudi Arabia has long been reserved as an activity for men. Even stadiums for watching sports prohibit females to be present.

The IOC expects athletes from all of its 204 national Olympic committees to compete in London.

(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Sonia Oxley)

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