By Duncan Mackay

Prince Nawaf_bin_FaisalApril 5 - There are fresh calls for Saudi Arabia to be banned from London 2012 after the head of the country's National Olympic Committee said that they would not bow to pressure and select any women athletes for their team.

Prince Nawaf bin Faisal (pictured), the President of the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee (SAOC), told a press conference in Jeddah that they would not pick a woman for London 2012 but would not stop them competing if the International Olympic Committee (IOC) offered them a wildcard, as long as officials ensured they did not violate Islamic sharia law while participating. 

"We are not endorsing any Saudi female participation at the moment in the Olympics or other international championships," said Faisal.

"There are hundreds, if not thousands, of [Saudi] women who practice sports, but in private,"

His comments are an embarrassment to Jacques Rogge, the President of the IOC, who had been hopeful of Saudi Arabia lifting their ban on women athletes for London.

Faisal is a member of the IOC , whose Charter prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender.

Dalma Malhas_competing_in_Singapore_2010
There had been high hopes that show jumper Dalma Malhas, 18, would be picked for London 2012.

Malhas won a bronze medal at the 2010 Singapore Youth Olympics without having been nominated by her country, following an invitation from the IOC.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch in February published a report damning the systematic exclusion of women from sporting activities in Saudi Arabia.

In July last year, the chair of the IOC's Women and Sport Committee, Anita DeFrantz, criticised Saudi Arabia, as well as Qatar and Brunei, for being the last three countries to have never sent female athletes to the Olympics.

Qatar have now promised to select a woman for London 2012 while Brunei insist that they would choose anyone who achieves the qualifying standard for the Games.

Sue Tibballs, the chief executive of the London-based Women's Sports and Fitness Foundation, led calls for Saudi Arabia to be barred from the Olympics.

"Saudi Arabia's current refusal to send sportswomen to the Olympics puts them directly at odds with one of the IOC's fundamental principles as laid out within the Olympic Charter," she said.

"It reads that 'any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, sex or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement'.

"The Women's Sport and Fitness Foundation would expect the IOC to defend the Olympic Charter and exclude Saudi Arabia from IOC membership and the London 2012 Olympic Games.

"There is precedent for this, Afghanistan were excluded from IOC in 1999 due to its discrimination of women under the Taliban and missed the Sydney 2000 Olympics as a result.

"The IOC needs to send a clear message to Saudi Arabia that they will not tolerate continued gender discrimination."

But a spokeswoman for the IOC told insidethegames that they were hopeful a solution could still be found before the Olympics open on July 27.

"We are still in discussion and working to ensure the participation of Saudi women at the Games in London," she said.

Read Alan Hubbard's blog on the subject by clicking here.

Contact the writer of this story at [email protected]

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