Rio 2016 Olympic Games coming up in less than two months, questioning whether or not Saudi Arabia will send female athletes to the Olympics is inevitable. The short answer is: the 2016 Saudi Olympic squad currently includes zero sportswomen.

London 2012 marked the first Olympics, in which all participating nations sent female athletes to compete. Brunei, Qatar and Saudi Arabia made that happen by finally allowing females to take part in the global sporting event. Saudi Arabia was the last to succumb to international pressure and agreed to send its female Olympians three weeks before the games, following threats of being banned from the event.

Saudi-American runner Sarah Attar and Saudi judoka Wojdan Shaherkani competed in the 2012 Olympics – wearing Sharia-compliant sportswear of course – based on the Olympic universality clause, which allows athletes who did not fulfill the qualifying standards to attend the games when their participation is deemed necessary for reasons pertaining to equality.

Unfortunately, instead of being celebrated for their role in moving the Arab world one step closer toward ending gender discrimination, Attar and Saherkani were attacked with demeaning insults on social media and received minimal financial and media support . The kingdom’s media outlets failed to acknowledge this milestone in Saudi history and only a few Saudi television channels broadcast the women’s matches. Additionally, Yahoo Sports reports that only one newspaper, Saudi Gazette, wrote about it.

Despite the 2012 breakthrough, it is apparent that the Saudi Kingdom is not ready to commit to encouraging female involvement in sports, considering no significant policy changes have been implemented. Olympic participation of female Saudis is mainly restricted to women living outside the country due to the governing bodies’ refusal to hold sporting competitions or qualifying events for women, along with the shortage of facilities accessible to women.

The IOC discussed women’s involvement in the Olympics with the Saudi Olympic chief after the kingdom failed to send a single female athlete to the 2014 Asian Games and 2014 Youth Olympic Games, claiming the Saudi sportswomen were not ready for competition at the time.

Saudi Arabian judoka Wojdan Shaherkani at the 2012 London Olympics Source: WikiMedia
Source: WikiMedia

"We will be having women in Rio de Janeiro on a good scale, but not at the Asian Games," Mohammed Al-Mishal, the secretary-general of Saudi Arabia’s Olympic Committee, told Reuters . "He (Prince Abdullah) doesn't like seeing them (female Saudi athletes) being always the last. He wants to do it right and he already communicated this to Bach. ”

The kingdom sent show jumper Dalma Rushdi Malhas, a suitable candidate for Rio, to the 2010 Youth Olympics, where she won a bronze equestrian medal. Another woman who ought to be considered for the 2016 Olympics is Sara Attar .

Attar has been working hard since her 2012 Olympic debut in hopes of another chance to represent her country at the games. She told Women’s eNews , “I cannot see them not sending women next time. And if I could run in Rio, I think it would be awesome.” Moreover, according to SMDP , amateur judoka Joud Fahmy has been training with an American coach for a shot at an Olympic spot.

Last year, Saudi Arabia agreed to send one female judoka to Brazil’s Olympics, but the matter was not followed up. 

Meanwhile, Qatar has been alleviating the restrictions on women in sports and encouraging female participation by building a women’s athletic center and other initiatives. Qatari officials have vowed to send as many females as possible to Rio, hoping to exceed the number of sportswomen who represented Qatar at London 2012.

However, swimmer Nada Arakji, one of the four Qatari females who competed in London, is currently the only sportswoman on Qatar’s 2016 Olympic team .