Asian Olympic boss unsure why Saudi Arabia excluded women

Thu Sep 18, 2014 3:41am EDT
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By Julian Linden

INCHEON South Korea (Reuters) - Asia's top Olympic official is unsure why Saudi Arabia excluded women from their team for the Asian Games and says he thought the Islamic kingdom had "broken the ice" when they picked female competitors for the London Olympics.

Saudi Arabia is the only country among the 45 competing nations at the Asian Games, which start in South Korea on Friday under the slogan "Diversity Shines Here", to have selected an all-male team.

Their decision has drawn criticism from Human Rights Watch but Saudi officials have defended their stance, saying their female athletes were not "competitive" enough for the Asian Games, a multi-sports event held every four years.

Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, the president of the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) that organizes the Asian Games, said there were no rules forcing countries to pick females but he was surprised Saudi Arabia had not chosen any after being widely applauded for including women at the last Olympics.

"Saudi Arabia broke through the ice when they participated at the London Olympics with a female," he told Reuters in an exclusive interview.

"It showed they are ready, they are capable to have women participate.

"I don't know why they are not participating here, maybe for technical reasons."

Saudi team officials said they recently discussed the matter with the International Olympic Council (IOC) and had promised to include women in their team for the 2016 Rio Olympics.   Continued...