Much has been made in recent days of Saudi Arabia's decision to allow its women to compete in the Olympic Games for the first time.
However, its only female competitor likely to qualify — 20-year-old equestrian talent Dalma Malhas — won't be going to London after all, it emerged Tuesday.
The Saudi government reportedly announced Sunday that it would allow women to represent the desert state, amid pressure from the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which earlier this year said it may ban Saudi Arabia from London 2012 unless the country sent women to the Games.
According to Australia's Fairfax media, Britain’s former Olympics minister Tessa Jowell said in February that the Saudis were "clearly breaking the spirit of the Olympic charter’s pledge to equality."
Fairfax cited a Saudi religious scholar as saying that the prevalent Wahhabi Islamic orthodoxy in the hardline Islamic state was that "opening sports to women and girls will lead to immorality."
Public sports events for women are banned in Saudi Arabia, while physical education is banned in girls’ public schools and all gyms have been banned to women since 2009.
Fairfax pointed to a recent human rights report as condemning the widely held belief in Saudi Arabia that "once women start to exercise they will shed modest clothing, spend unnecessary time out of the house, and have increased possibilities of mingling with men."
The BBC reported that Saudi's King Abdullah pushed for the Olympics policy change, but delayed the announcement due to last week's death of heir-apparent Crown Prince Nayef.
"Partly because of the mounting criticism we woke up and realized we had to deal with this. We believe Saudi society will accept this," a senior Saudi official told the BBC.
The only female athlete likely to qualify for London 2012 was Malhas, Agence France-Presse reported, on the basis that she won a bronze medal at the 2010 Singapore Youth Olympics, where she competed at the invitation of the IOC.
However, her mother told the Guardian she would not be able to compete because her horse, Caramell KS, was injured.
"Unfortunately her horse got injured, and there is no chance of her getting to the Olympics this time," Arwa Mutabagani, herself a former showjumper, reportedly said.
"You have to have the combination. It would be like a Formula One driver going to the track without their car."
Australia's Fairfax media, meantime, reported that in fact Malhas' horse had been out of action for weeks.
Malhas is an American-born, London-educated multi-millionaire’s daughter, and the horse was bought from Sweden to advance her Olympic prospects.
However, an injury to its back was diagnosed six weeks ago and it would not have recovered in time for the Games, Fairfax reported.
Regardless, Fairfax reported, Malhas was definitely going to qualify for the Olympics, and the Youth Olympic Games did not meet the qualifying standard, meaning the IOC would have had to give her wildcard status.
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