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London Olympics 2012: Saudi Arabian women allowed to compete for first time

For the first time, Saudi Arabia will allow women to compete in the Olympics.

Saudi Arabian officials announced that Saudi women are now allowed to compete in the upcoming 2012 London Olympics. This is the first time that Saudi women have been allowed to compete in the competition. The news comes despite fierce objections made by many Saudi religious conservatives, BBC News reported.

“King Abdullah is trying to initiate reform in a subtle way,” a Saudi official told the BBC. “Partly because of the mounting criticism we woke up and realized we had to deal with this. We believe Saudi society will accept this.”

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The Saudi regime had banned women from private gyms in 2009 and still places harsh limitations on the amount of physical activity a woman can partake in, the Guardian reported. But the country has come under more pressure recently to let go of those restrictions. The latest announcement comes months after the International Olympic Committee was asked to completely ban Saudi Arabia from the Olympics, after it appeared that Saudi women would not be allowed to compete. 

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The only female athlete likely to qualify is 18-year-old equestrian athlete Dalma Malhas, Agence France Presse reported. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei are the only three countries that have never to sent any women to the Olympics. But Qatar has also recently announced that it will send three women to London, the AFP reported.