Saudi Arabia will send two female athletes to the Olympics for the first time at the upcoming London Games, the International Olympic Committee confirmed on Thursday.

The IOC said in a statement that Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani will compete in judo’s +78kg category and Sarah Attar run the 800 metres at the July 27-August 12 Games.

The IOC said it invited the athletes and that they were entered by the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee by the July 9 deadline.

“This is very positive news and we will be delighted to welcome these two athletes in London in a few weeks time,” said IOC President Jacques Rogge.

“The IOC has been working very closely with the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee and I am pleased to see that our continued dialogue has come to fruition.

“The IOC has been striving to ensure a greater gender balance at the Olympic Games, and today’s news can be seen as an encouraging evolution.” Attar, 17, was quoted in another IOC statement as saying from her United States base in San Diego: “A big inspiration for participating in the Olympic Games is being one of the first women for Saudi Arabia to be going.

“It’s such a huge honour and I hope that it can really make some big strides for women over there to get more involved in sport.” The entry of Shahrkhani and Attar means that gender equality has been reached for all participating nations (203 are expected) in London.

At Beijing 2008, Saudi Arabia, Brunei and Qatar had male-only teams. Brunei and Qatar had announced the inclusion of women into their London teams at earlier dates.

The IOC said that Brunei has entered Maziah Mahusin (athletics), while Qatar has listed Nada Arkaji (swimming), Noor Al-Malki (athletics), Aya Magdy (table tennis) and Bahiya Al-Hamad (shooting), with the latter also to carry her country’s flag at the opening ceremony.

“I’m overwhelmed to have been asked to carry the Qatari flag at the Opening Ceremony. It’s a truly historic moment for all athletes,” Al-Hamad said.” Rogge told dpa last week that the IOC has made steady progress on the issue over the past decades, saying that 26 nations had not sent women to the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

The IOC and human rights organizations had called on the conservative Muslim kingdom of Saudi Arabia in recent months to allow women into their team.

“You can not force people to participate but you have to remove the blocks and the fences that prevent them from participating. You don’t need a paper for that. It is in the values of the Olympic Games,” Rogge said.

He also said he expected the same amount of female and male athletes at future Games.

“Between the next 10 and 20 years we will have 50 per cent men and 50 per cent women at the Games. We had 44 per cent (women) in Beijing. It is going to improve in London and it will gradually improve in the future. At a certain moment there will be a balance between the two genders,” Rogge said.

Women’s boxing is making its debut in London and the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi will be the first to include women’s ski-jumping.

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