It’s hard to believe, but the 2012 Olympics will be the first time in history that every participating country will send at least one female athlete. Saudi Arabia sealed the deal when it bowed to international pressure and gave up its mantle as the only remaining Olympic nation to never send a female athlete to the Games. They’ll be represented by a judo competitor and an 800-meter runner.
Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani, who will compete in the 78-kg category in judo, and teenager Sarah Attar will be the first Saudi women ever to take part after talks between the IOC and the country.
At the Atlanta Games in 1996, 26 nations sent no female athletes, the figure falling to just three in Beijing in 2008.
In recent months human rights groups urged the IOC to ban Saudi Arabia from the Games unless it agreed to send women.
Powerful Saudi clerics denounce women for taking part in sport, 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. They are not allowed to drive.
It’s amazing that international pressure was needed. Then again, Saudi Arabia, where foreign soccer players get arrested for sporting Jesus tattoos and writers face execution for insulting Islam on Twitter, is not exactly a pioneer in human rights. Regardless, the result is that 40 years after Title IX the Olympics will have a little more gender balance.
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