Olympics-IOC confident Saudi women will compete in London

BERLIN, March 19 Mon Mar 19, 2012 7:34am EDT

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BERLIN, March 19 (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia looks set to send women athletes to an Olympics for the first time later this year.

The Saudis, Brunei and Qatar have never previously included females in their teams and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is eager to see that situation change in London in July.

The IOC said on Monday that Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee officials presented a list of potential candidates for the London Games during a meeting at its headquarters in Lausanne last week.

"After the assessment of the level of each athlete by the IOC and the international federations concerned, a formal proposal will be submitted to the next meeting of the IOC executive board in Quebec City in May," it said in a statement.

"The IOC is confident Saudi Arabia is working to include women athletes and officials at the Olympic Games in London in accordance with the rules of the international federations."

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 Games, said last month it would send female athletes to the Olympics for the first time.

The IOC has offered Qatar wildcard 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, with stadiums prohibiting females. (Reporting by Karolos Grohmann, editing by Tony Jimenez)

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