LAUSANNE, Switzerland — IOC President Jacques Rogge is optimistic that Saudi Arabia will send female athletes to the Olympics for the first time at this summer’s London Games, helping achieve the Olympic body’s target of having women represented on every national team.
In an interview Monday with The Associated Press, Rogge said the International Olympic Committee was in advanced talks with the Saudis to include female competitors.
Details of how many athletes and from which sport or sports are still being worked out.
“We are still discussing with them on the practicalities, but we are optimistic that this is going to happen,” Rogge said. “It depends on the possibilities of qualifications, standards of different athletes. We’re still discussing the various options.”
Saudi Arabia may not have women who meet Olympic qualifying standards, meaning the IOC and international sports federations would have to offer special invitations or find other solutions.
A decision should be finalized in a month to six weeks, Rogge said.
Saudi Arabia was one of three countries without any female athletes at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The others, Qatar and Brunei, also have never sent women to compete at the games.
Qatar announced last month that it will use IOC wild card invitations to send at least two women — a swimmer and sprinter — to the London Games. Two others could also be added to the list.
Brunei is also expected to include women this time, according to the IOC.
If the talks with Saudi Arabia prove successful, all national Olympic committees in London will include women athletes for the first time in Olympic history, Rogge said.
About 204 national Olympic committees are expected to compete in London, representing 10,500 athletes.
As recently as the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, 26 national teams did not include women.
A recent report by Human Rights Watch accused Saudi Arabia of violating the IOC charter on gender equality. In interviews with Saudi women and international sporting officials, the group found that Saudi government restrictions put sports beyond the reach of almost all women in the Gulf nation.
Equestrian Dalma Rushdi Malhas won a bronze medal for Saudi Arabia in show jumping at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games in Singapore. Human Rights Watch said Malhas may be invited to participate in London by an international sports federation.
On another issue, Rogge said the IOC is in “close contact” with the Syrian national Olympic committee and expects Syrian athletes to compete in London, despite the year-old conflict and crackdown that the U.N. estimates has killed more than 7,500 people.
“It goes without saying that training now is a very difficult issue for the Syrian athletes,” Rogge said. “Some are training abroad with our financial support. Probably around 6-8 will be able to qualify and we’ll support them wholeheartedly to participate in the games.”
In the event of any breakup of Syria, the IOC could offer athletes the chance to compete under the Olympic flag, as was the case in the past for athletes from the former Yugoslavia and East Timor.
“There is no issue speaking as of today on the sovereignty of Syria,” Rogge said. “If the need would arise, we would definitely find solutions to allow the athletes to participate, but today they would participate under the Syrian flag.”
Rogge reiterated the IOC’s support for Dow Chemical, rejecting demands from India that the company be dropped as a sponsor of the London Games because of its links to the 1984 Bhopal disaster.
Dow bought Union Carbide in 2000. Union Carbide’s plant is blamed for the gas leak that killed an estimated 15,000 people. Critics argue the purchase makes Dow responsible for lingering groundwater contamination and other issues.
“Our position is very clear,” Rogge said. “We consider that Dow has no responsibility in what happened in Bhopal in 1984. Dow acquired the company that created the problem, Union Carbide, 16 years after the tragic incident.
“Yes, it is a catastrophe. It is tragic. This is not something you pass easily over, but we consider Dow is not responsible.”
Rogge also brushed off reports that India could boycott London over the Dow issue, saying, “We believe the athletes will want to go to the games.”
On a related issue, the IOC executive board — which meets here Tuesday and Wednesday — will review the status of the disgraced president of the Indian Olympic Association. Suresh Kalmadi, who was jailed for nine months on corruption charges related to the 2010 Commonwealth Games, has stepped away from day-to-day running of the IOA but has not relinquished the presidency. Vijay Kumar Malhotra is serving as acting president.
Kalmadi or the Indian body could face sanctions.
“We’ll take all the facts into consideration,” Rogge said.
With the London Games less than five months away, Rogge expressed satisfaction with preparations. Local organizing committee LOCOG has faced sharp criticism in Britain over ticketing and budget issues.
“I don’t have any concerns,” Rogge said. “We’re very happy with the way LOCOG and the government are organizing the games. This is really a first-class effort. The deadlines are respected. They are on time and on budget.”
The IOC leader also played down a warning from a British watchdog committee last week that rising security costs could threaten London’s 9.3 billion pound ($14.6 billion) budget.
“We have been reassured by (Sports) Minister Hugh Robertson, but also by the organizing committee, that the original budget of 9.3 billion pounds still is valid and we have also heard there might be a profit coming out of the games,” Rogge said. “We are comforted by that.”