Dubai: Dalma Malhas, tipped to become the first woman competitor for Saudi Arabia in Olympics, failed to qualify for London 2012, the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) said on Monday.
“Regretfully, the Saudi Arabian rider Dalma Rushdi Malhas has not attained the minimum eligibility standards and consequently will not be competing at the London 2012 Olympic Games,” FEI Secretary General Ingmar De Vos said in a statement out of Lausanne.
He said that the International Olympic Committee however “has a number of other female athletes from Saudi Arabia in other sports who are currently under consideration”.
Malhas, 20, had been aiming to achieve the minimum eligibility standard required for the Olympic Games by the June 17 deadline, but her horse was sidelined by injury and missed a month’s work during the qualifying period. The fact that “so few (Saudi) women are qualified to compete at the Olympic level is due entirely to the country’s restrictions on women’s rights,” said Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Worden urged the Saudi authorities to “allow sports in schools, gyms for women, and to add women to the Saudi National Olympic Committee immediately.”
Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei are the only three countries never to have sent women athletes to the Olympics.
Qatar has already announced it will send a three-woman team to London, comprising shooter Bahia Al Hamad, swimmer Nada Wafa Arakji and Noor Al Malki, a 100m and 200m sprinter. Brunei, meanwhile, will send a woman to London as part of its two-athlete delegation - 400m hurdler Maziah Mahusin.
Saudi Arabia’s decision could provoke resistance in the country which operates under a strict Islamic code under which women are forced to cover themselves from head to toe, are not even allowed to drive and the authorities shut down private gyms for women in 2009 and 2010.
There had been increasing pressure on the Saudis to fall into line over sending a women’s team with International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge admitting in April that he was conducting lengthy talks with the kingdom’s rulers.