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Saudi Arabia will allow women to compete in Olympics

Chris Chase
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(AP)

Under pressure from the international Olympic movement, Saudi Arabia announced it would allow women to compete at the Olympics, a move which ends a ban on competition by female athletes and could lead to participation at next month's Summer Games in London. The middle eastern country was the last major nation to ban women from athletic competition.

There were calls to ban Saudi Arabia from London 2012 because of its policy toward women. Females in the country don't have the legal rights of men. Sports is a near afterthought -- girls in Saudi Arabia can't even play high school sports.

But King Abdullah has slowly tried to tweak the archaic gender roles in that society. He's pushed for more education and limited voting rights. Some of his deputy ministers have spoken of plans to reinstate sports for women. The traditional clerics are thought to have been resistant to allowing women to compete. In 2009, one cleric said women shouldn't play sports because they could "tear their hymen."

The lack of prior opportunity and a generally weak sporting culture in Saudi Arabia means we won't see many women competing under the green and white flag of the kingdom. Only equestrian Dalma Malhas has qualified for the Olympics and she isn't expected to compete for a medal.

Her final result will be irrelevant. When getting to the Olympics is itself a historic achievement, it doesn't matter what happens when you get there.

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