IOC optimistic Saudi Arabia will send women

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IOC optimistic Saudi Arabia will send women

LAUSANNE, Switzerland - IOC President Jacques Rogge is optimistic that Saudi Arabia will send female athletes to the Olympics for the first time at this summer’s London Games, helping the Olympic body reach its target of having women represented on every national team.

In an interview Monday with The Associated Press, Rogge said the International Olympic Committee was in advanced talks with the Saudi Arabians to include female competitors.

Details of how many athletes will attend and from which sport or sports are still being worked out.

“We are still discussing with them on the practicalities, but we are optimistic that this is going to happen,’’ Rogge said. “It depends on the possibilities of qualifications, standards of different athletes. We’re still discussing the various options.’’

Saudi Arabia may not have women who meet Olympic qualifying standards, meaning the IOC and international sports federations would have to offer special invitations or find other solutions.

A decision should be finalized in a month to six weeks, Rogge said.

Saudi Arabia was one of only three countries without any female athletes at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The others, Qatar and Brunei, also have never sent women to compete at the games.

Qatar announced last month that it will use IOC wild card invitations to send at least two women - a swimmer and a sprinter - to the London Games. Two others could also be added to the list. Brunei is also expected to include women this time, according to the IOC.

If the talks with Saudi Arabia prove successful, all national Olympic committees in London will include women athletes for the first time in Olympic history, Rogge said.

About 204 national Olympic committees are expected to compete in London, representing 10,500 athletes.

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

A recent report by Human Rights Watch accused Saudi Arabia of violating the IOC charter on gender equality. In interviews with Saudi women and international sporting officials, the group found that Saudi government restrictions put sports beyond the reach of almost all women in the Gulf nation. AP

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