* No Saudi women qualified for the Games
* But women may still participate if invited
* Saudi Olympic Committee and IOC in talks
By Asma Alsharif
JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia, July 11 Saudi Arabia will
send women athletes to the 2012 London Games if they are invited
by the International Olympic Committee, a Saudi official told
Reuters on Wednesday in comments that suggested Riyadh was
moving towards resolving the thorny issue.
"Saudi Arabia will allow female athletes to participate if
they receive an invitation from the International Olympic
Committee or other countries' Olympic committees," the official,
who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the
issue, told Reuters by telephone.
"There is a joint committee of the IOC and the Saudi Olympic
Committee to discuss which female athletes will receive an
invitation and for which sports. No invitations have been issued
Female participation in sports has long been a controversial
issue in Saudi Arabia, where powerful clerics denounce women for
exercising, saying it goes against their nature.
Women in Saudi Arabia are regarded as minors and require the
permission of their guardian - father, brother, or husband - to
leave the country and in some cases even to work.
Just weeks before the opening of the London Olympics on July
27, rights groups have criticised Saudi Arabia for its failure
ever to send a female athlete to the Games.
In a report on Wednesday, New York-based Human Rights Watch
urged the IOC to bar Saudi Arabia from participating in this
year's Games. It cited a story in daily pan-Arab newspaper
al-Sharq al-Awsat which said no Saudi women would take part.
The Saudi embassy in London announced last month that it
would "oversee the participation of women athletes who can
qualify for the Games", but no Saudi women have won places
through competitive qualification.
The Saudi official said on Wednesday, however, that there
were other ways to obtain places: competitors could be given
wild cards and invitations might be extended by Olympic
committees. These channels are still an option for Saudi woman
athletes, the official added.
The participation of women would be subject to their
guardians' approval, and they must adhere to the dress code of
Islamic law, the official said.
The Saudi Olympic Committee's general secretary, Rashed
Al-Heraiwel, declined to comment.
Physical education is banned in girls' state schools in the
kingdom but Saudi Arabia's only female deputy minister, Noura
al-Fayez, has written to Human Rights Watch saying there is a
plan to introduce it.
(Reporting by Asma Alsharif; Editing by Andrew Torchia and