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Saudi Sarah Attar Hopes Olympic Appearance Will Help More Women Get Involved in Sport

After a great deal of negotiation and speculation, Saudi Arabia has agreed to send female athletes to the Olympics for the first time.

A judoka and an 800m runner will represent the ultra conservative kingdom in London later this month, the International Olympic Committee said on Thursday.

Runner Sarah Attar and Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani, who will compete in the +78kg category in judo, will be the first Saudi women to take part at a Games after talks between IOC and the country paid off.

“A big inspiration for participating in the Olympic Games is being one of the first women for Saudi Arabia to be going,” the 17-year-old Attar said in an IOC video from her US training base in San Diego. “It’s such a huge honur and I hope that it can really make some big strides for women over there to get more involved in sport.”

Attar, who has spent most of her life outside of Saudi Arabia and living in Southern California with her American mother and Saudi father, said she hopes her inclusion will encourage women in the conservative kingdom that does not even allow women to drive to participate in sports.

“To any woman who wants to participate, I say ‘go for it’, and don’t let anybody hold you back,” Attar said in the video after running a lap on the track wearing pants and covering her hair.

“We all have potential to get out there and get moving,” she said.

Sarah and her fellow Saudi sportswoman must respect the kingdom’s rules, its sports chief said in remarks published on Monday.

All women competitors must dress modestly, be accompanied by a male guardian and not mix with men during the Games, Prince Nawaf bin Faisal told the Al-Jazirah newspaper.

Saudi sportswomen may only take part if they do so “wearing suitable clothing that complies with sharia” (Islamic law) and “the athlete’s guardian agrees and attends with her,” he said.

“There must also be no mixing with men during the Games,” he added.

“The athlete and her guardian must pledge not to break these conditions,” he said.

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