Young rider’s horse’s back problems end jumping hopes
LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND – Dalma Rushi Malhas from Saudi Arabia did not make the cut for the Saudi Olympic equestrian team because of her ailing horse, but disappointment that she will not be the country’s first woman to compete in the Olympics was softened by a surprise announcement that Saudi women will be allowed to take part in the 2012 Summer Games in London.
They will join women from Qatar and Brunei, also competing for the first time.
Dalma Rushi Malhas won individual bronze at the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in 2010. Her mother, Arwa Mutabagani, “has been very active in nurturing the growth of equestrian sport in Saudi Arabia,” according to FEI, the Lausanne-based International Equestrian Federation. She was appointed as the first female board member of the Saudi Equestrian Federation in 2008 and she was the only female member of the Saudi Olympic Committee delegation at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.
“It would have been a great opportunity to have a female athlete on the Saudi equestrian team,” Mutabagani says, “but Dalma is young and she is determined to represent Saudi Arabia at the highest level, so we have great hopes for Rio 2016.”
The FEI said in a statement Tuesday 26 June, “The 20-year-old had been aiming to achieve the minimum eligibility standard required for the Olympic Games by the 17 June deadline, but her horse was sidelined by injury and missed a month’s work during the qualifying period. The 12-year-old Swedish warmblood mare Caramell KS, which was bought from Swedish rider Svante Johansson at the end of 2011, was found to be suffering from a back problem, putting an end to Dalma’s hopes of qualifying for London 2012.”
Human Rights Watch will maintain its pressure on Saudi gov’t
The news is bittersweet for those following efforts by Saudi Arabian women to compete in London’s Olympics, with a number of media reporting Tuesday that the young show-jumper was Saudi Arabia’s only likely female athlete. The FEI says it believes other female athletes in other sports may be part of the Saudi team for the Games that start 27 July.
The Saudi embassy in London issued a statement late Monday 25 June saying that women will be allowed to take part in the sports competitions for the first time. The news came a week after the death of Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz, points out Middle East Online, noting that he opposed women’s participation in the Olympics.
Saudi Arabia does not offer school sports for girls, women’s gyms or sports training centres, nor until now has it allowed women to compete in sports.
It is, however, actively involved in the Lausanne-based International Olympics Committee (IOC), and Human Rights Watch has been pressuring the Saudi government to change its policy, saying that denying women the chance to compete “violates the human rights principles of the Olympic Charter, which states: ‘The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind.’”
The human rights group notes that Saudi Arabia’s policy towards women and sport reflects the predominant conservative view that opening sports to women and girls will lead to immorality: “‘steps of the devil’, as one prominent religious scholar put it.” It is launching a Facebook/Twitter campaign to maintain pressure on Saudi Arabia to ensure it really does field women in London.