Saudi Arabia has debuted its first ever female Olympic athlete - but is this really an indication of progress, or is it too little?
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For the first time Saudi Arabia has sent a female athlete to an Olympic Games ensuring that all nations have sent female athletes to London 2012, a first. The first female athlete, Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shaherkani had her debut on Friday, losing her first round judo bout in just under 90 seconds. Sarah Attar, an 800m runner who will be competing on Wednesday, has also been selected to represent Saudi Arabia. This move came after much pressure from the IOC, and from the isolation and embarrassment caused by Brunei and Quatar’s decision to send female athletes, leaving Saudi Arabia as the only nation never to have sent female athletes. For this reason London 2012 has been hailed as the most female-friendly Olympic Games, with each team including at least one female athlete. Brunei’s first ever and only female competitor even had the honour of being flag bearer at the opening ceremony, a hugely significant gesture. These female athletes from Saudi Arabia are clearly an inspiration, competing on the international stage despite vociferous opposition from the Saudi conservative elite who view women and sport as incompatible with traditional values. For example, it is deemed wrong for a woman to command any sort of attention such as in a sporting area, and especially from a mixed sex audience, leading to Shaherkani being called “the prostitute of the Olympics” by the Saudi clergy. It is hoped that greater sporting involvement will be the consequence of females representing countries like Saudi Arabia, with Shaherkani herself saying “hopefully this is the beginning of a new era”.
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