Asian Games: Women sidelined as Saudi Arabia selects all-male team

Mon Sep 8, 2014 11:06am EDT
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By Julian Linden

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia has failed to include a single female athlete in its 199-strong team for the upcoming Asian Games in South Korea, saying its women are not sufficiently competitive.

The Saudi stance sparked criticism from Human Rights Watch, which condemned its all-male line-up, saying the ultra-conservative state was shutting the door on female athletes, having previously shown signs of wanting to break down barriers.

Saudi authorities were widely applauded for including two women in their team for the 2012 London Olympics, a symbolic first for the Islamic kingdom.

But just over two years later, the oil-rich nation has opted not to pick any females for the 17th Asian Games, to be held in Incheon, South Korea, from Sept. 19 to Oct. 4.

Mohammed al-Mishal, the secretary-general of Saudi Arabia’s Olympic Committee, told Reuters that Saudi Arabia was committed to sending female athletes to the next Olympics, but said they were not yet competitive enough for Asian Games.

"Technically, we weren't ready to introduce any ladies and the new president of our Olympic committee (Prince Abdullah bin Musaed bin Abdulaziz) rejected sending women to only participate, he wanted them to compete," said Mishal.

"We will be having women in Rio de Janeiro on a good scale, but not at the Asian Games."

Mishal said Prince Abdullah, who was appointed Saudi Arabia's General President of Youth Welfare this year, had discussed his country's plans with the International Olympic Committee (IOC).   Continued...

Saudi Arabia's Sarah Attar runs in her women's 800m round 1 heat at the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium August 8, 2012. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholso