International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Jacques Rogge cannot guarantee “100 percent” that female athletes from Saudi Arabia will compete at the London Olympics, although he remains optimistic the Gulf kingdom will send women to the Games for the first time.
Rogge said in an interview on Wednesday that the IOC was discussing the “operational details” with Saudi officials for ending their four-decade-old policy of sending only men to the Games.
Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei have never included women in their Olympic teams. While Qatar and Brunei have committed to sending female athletes to London, whether Saudi Arabia will do the same — and, if so, how many women will be included — remains uncertain just three weeks before the start of the London Games.
“I remain cautiously optimistic on the participation of women,” Rogge said. “I cannot guarantee it 100 percent today. I cannot say how many [athletes] because I don’t know. We are still discussing operational details with the authorities.”
He declined to elaborate, but both sides have been working on identifying a few Saudi women who could go to the Olympics.
“I will tell you when I’m sure 100 percent,” Rogge said. “I will not speak out before.”
Saudi Olympic Committee president Prince Nawaf said in April that female participation had not been approved by the country’s leaders and that Saudi-based women traveling to London would be contrary to the kingdom’s traditions and norms.
However, a statement released by the Saudi embassy in London last week said female athletes who qualify could be allowed to participate.
Athletes in judo and in track and field are considered possibilities.
Saudi Arabia is a deeply traditional and conservative Muslim society, and women are severely restricted in public life and are not allowed to drive.
Because Saudi women may not meet the international qualifying standards, the IOC can grant them Olympic entry based on “special circumstances.”
On a separate issue, Rogge said the IOC has not received any notification that the head of Syria’s Olympic committee has been denied a visa for the London Games by the British government.
An official involved in the Olympic movement said last month that Britain refused to give General Mowaffak Joumaa a visa because of his links to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“We don’t know anything about that,” Rogge said by telephone from Lausanne, Switzerland. “We have not heard anything, not a word. We have not been officially notified about such a decision.”
London organizers are required to notify the IOC when accredited Olympic personnel are rejected entry.
“If we get a notification, we definitely would ask the government to tell us why the person has been denied entry and then we’ll look at it,” Rogge said.
The Syrian government’s crackdown on an uprising has killed thousands of people and led to broad sanctions and an EU travel ban on al-Assad and other top officials. Joumaa is not on the list.
Rogge said Syria’s national Olympic committee remains recognized by the IOC and Syrian athletes will compete under their national flag in London.