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Saudi Arabia appoints princess to oversee women’s sports

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RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has appointed a princess to oversee women’s sports in the ultra-conservative kingdom, even as the country has doubled the number of female athletes representing it at the Olympics.

Princess Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan was named head of the women’s section at the General Authority for Sports, which acts as the kingdom’s sports ministry, the official SPA news agency said.

It did not specify what her responsibilities would be.

Princess Reema is the daughter of the once-powerful Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who was the Saudi ambassador to Washington for 22 years until 2005. She was educated in the United States.

“I am honoured to serve my nation,” SPA quoted Princess Reema as saying.

Women face significant obstacles to competing in sport in Saudi Arabia, where women have to cover from head to toe and are banned from driving.

Four Saudi female athletes are however taking part in the Olympics this year in Rio, where they arrived with seven Saudi men on Monday.

These sportswomen include marathon runner Sarah al-Attar, judoka Wujud Fahmi, fencer Lubna al-Omair and 100m runner Cariman Abu al-Jadail.

Both Attar and Fahmi were returning to the games after they became the country’s first female Olympians in London four years ago.

In a first in 2014, a Saudi state school introduced sports for girls, after a call for lifting a ban on women in sports.

Saudi authorities shut down private gyms for women in 2009 and 2010, and women are effectively barred from sports arenas by strict rules on segregation of the sexes in public.

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