By Duncan Mackay
British Sports Internet Writer of the Year

July 1 - Qatar are set to send female athletes to the Olympics for the first time when they are held in London in 2012 - which will leave Saudi Arabia as the only major country still to exclude women from taking part in the Games.  

Qatar revealed that they were already planning to send a small contingent of women to London even before an announcement from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that they are to promote the United Nations goal of equality for women and would be putting pressure on countries that have never sent female athletes to the Games before.

Qatar, along with Saudi Arabia and Brunei, are the only three countries among the 205 National Olympic Committees who have never been represented by female competitors since women made their debut in the Games at Paris in 1900.

Anita DeFrantz, the chair of the IOC's Women and Sports Commission, said: "We keep asking them why not, why not.

"We've been very specific about the importance of having women take part in the Olympic Movement in all the National Olympic Committees of the world."

The Qatar Olympic Committee (QOC) reacted by claiming that they hoped to send up to four female athletes in shooting and fencing to represent them at London in 2012.

Qatar, which made its Olympic debut at Los Angeles in 1984, sent 22 male athletes in seven sports to Beijing two years ago.

"Please note that women’s sport is a relatively new concept in this part of the world because of its culture and traditions, but over the past few years, especially since the formation of the Qatar Women’s Sports Committee in 2001, there has been rapid progress and more and more parents are encouraging their girls to play sport," a spokesman told the Gulf Times.

The IOC, which was granted observer status last year by the UN, has seen female representation at the Games nearly double from 23 per cent in 1984 to 43 per cent in 2008.

DeFrantz has in the past singled out Saudi Arabia for special criticism because under national law it is not permitted to pick women for their Olympic team.

She has even claimed that they should be barred from taking part in the Games until they change their policy.

They sent 15 athletes in five sports to Beijing. 

Sport is banned at girls state schools.

There is no federation that organises women's sport and few stadia that are open to them.  

It is claimed that change is coming slowly in the country but DeFrantz has set them the target of the London Olympics.

"I'm hopeful that by 2012 every National Olympic Committee ... [will be encouraged] to have competitive opportunities for women," she said.

Brunei only made its Olympic debut in 1988 when they sent one official and no athletes.

They have subsequently missed the Games in 1992 and 2008, when they were expelled on the day of the Opening Ceremony in Beijing because they failed to register any athletes with the IOC.

When they have competed, the tiny Southeast Asian country have never sent more than one athlete.

But DeFrantz, a former vice-president of the IOC, wants to make sure that women there have just as much opportunity as their male counterparts.

"We have a deep interest in making certain that there is equality for women and we're working through sport to make that happen," she said.

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