Photos by AP and Olympic Committee
In the past, many countries did not send women athletes to the Olympic Games, particularly women from the Middle East. But in an herstoric moment, Saudi Arabia has announced July 12, 2012, that it will be sending two female athletes to the London 2012 Olympic Game. This means that for the first time ever in Olympic history, every National Olympic Committee (NOC) will have women athletes represented at the Games.
The decision by Saudi Arabia to send Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani for judo + 78kg events and Sarah Attar for the 800m run follows earlier confirmation by Brunei Darussalam and Qatar–the only other NOCs yet to send female athletes to the Games- that they would also have female athletes competing at London 2012.
The two Saudi athletes barely made it in, as the official deadline by the IOC for naming athletes is July 9th. Opening ceremonies in London start July 27.
Attar, 17, said she was honored by the prospect of competing for her country at London 2012. “A big inspiration for participating in the Olympic Games is being one of the first women for Saudi Arabia to be going,” she said at her training base in San Diego, USA. “It’s such a huge honor and I hope that it can really make some big strides for women over there to get more involved in sport.”
Brunei Darussalam has entered Maziah Mahusin for running events, while Qatar has entered Nada Arkaji for various swimming events, Noor Al-Malki for running, Aya Magdy for table tennis, and Bahiya Al-Hamad for shooting.
Qatar’s Al-Hamad has been tapped not only to compete at London 2012 but also to carry her country’s flag during the Opening Ceremony. “I’m overwhelmed to have been asked to carry the Qatari flag at the Opening Ceremony,” she said. “It’s a truly historic moment for all athletes.”
Fifteen years ago at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, 26 NOCs had yet to include female athletes in their delegations. Four years ago in Beijing, the figure had dropped to just three. With the inclusion of Saudi Arabia, Brunei Darussalam, and Qatar sending female athletes to London 2012, it marks a milestone in Olympic history, but even more so in women’s sports in general.
Female participation at the Olympic Games has increased from 1.8% at London 1908 to 9.5% at London 1948 and more than 42% at Beijing 2008. The latter figure is expected to be improved upon again this summer.
Another milestone in the fight for gender equality in sport at London 2012 will be the inclusion of women’s boxing on the Olympic program, ensuring that women will compete in every sport for the first time in the 116-year history of the modern Olympic Games.