RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Plans for Saudi Arabia to send women to the Olympics for the first time appear to be in jeopardy.
Saudi Arabian newspaper Al-Watan reported Thursday that Saudi Olympic Committee President Prince Nawaf does “not approve” of sending female athletes to the London Games. But he left room for Saudi women to possibly compete on their own outside the official delegation, a plan that may not satisfy demands by the International Olympic Committee.
A similar arrangement was made at the Youth Olympics in 2010 for Saudi equestrian competitor Dalma Rushdi Malhas. She won a bronze medal in show jumping.
“I do not approve of Saudi female participation in the Olympics at the moment,” Nawaf was quoted as saying by the newspaper.
Officials at the Saudi Olympic Committee could not be reached for comment.
The IOC has been in talks with the Saudis about sending women to London.
“We are still in discussion and working to ensure the participation of Saudi women at the games in London,” the IOC told The Associated Press in an email on Thursday.
Saudi Arabia is one of three countries that have never included women on their Olympic teams, along with Qatar and Brunei. The IOC has been hopeful that all three would send female representatives to London, marking the first time for every competing nation.
In a statement Thursday, Human Rights Watch said Nawaf’s comments underline Saudi Arabia’s shaky commitment to granting women rights to participate in sports.
“If the International Olympic Committee was looking for an official affirmation of Saudi discrimination against women in sports, the minister in charge just gave it,” said Christoph Wilcke, a senior Middle East researcher for the New York-based group. “It is impossible to square Saudi discrimination against women with the noble values of the Olympic Charter.”
A formal proposal for the participation of Saudi women had been scheduled to be submitted to the IOC executive board at its meeting in Quebec City from May 23-25.