LONDON — Officials will work to improve women’s access to sports in countries where it is restricted but it could take 10 years before significant progress is made, Jacques Rogge, the head of the Olympic movement, said Sunday.
Three countries -- Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei -- sent women to the Games for the first time, making London 2012 the first to have female competitors from every participating nation.
At a press conference at the Olympic Park, Rogge was asked what would be done to ensure these were not simply “token appearances.”
“We are going to continue to discuss with the local authorities and sports ministries and try to find strategies and solutions to improve the situation,” he said.
“It will take time. The ideal situation will not be found tomorrow. This is work for probably a decade at least to see major improvements,” he added.
There was a roar from the crowd in the main Olympic stadium when Saudi Arabian 800-meter runner Sarah Attar, who also has U.S. citizenship, was introduced for a heat on Wednesday last week. She waved and smiled in response.Olympics bring pride, hope to Afghanistan
Running covered from head to toe except for her face, she was quickly faded from the field, finishing last with a time of 2 minutes 44.95 seconds, nearly a minute off the world record of 1 minute 53.28 seconds.
After the race, she told U.K. broadcaster the BBC that her run wasn’t about winning, but was for women in Saudi Arabia, saying she hoped it would "make a difference" and that "it sparks something amazing.”
At Sunday’s press conference, Rogge said the participation of athletes from such countries -- where women do not have equal access to sports -- had been “a very important one.”Saudi Olympian allowed to compete in judo wearing hijab
“It opened the door for more and definitely it was a very strong signal,” he said.
Speaking generally, Rogge said the IOC only got involved in human rights issues that impacted the Olympics, such as the working conditions of people who build the venues, child labor used to make sports equipment, and compensation for people forced out of their homes to make way for the Games.
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“We’re not for general issues of humans rights, like whether there should be a death penalty or not,” he said.Military to fill empty seats at London Olympics
Rogge said on the whole he was “very happy” with London 2012, picking out a string of highlights including the performances of multiple gold-medal winners Usain Bolt of Jamaica, Michael Phelps of the U.S. and Chris Hoy of the U.K., saying the tears of the latter had been his moment of the Games.Islam in the Olympics: All countries send women
However, asked about problems getting tickets in person and on the Internet, Rogge admitted this would be looked at before the next Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2016.
Particularly at the start of London 2012, there were many empty seats at some venues, although the main stadium was packed for most of the athletics events.
“We’re definitely going to review the ticketing policy of the games,” Rogge said. “We’re going to see whether this system [the ticket distribution system] can continue to work. The venues were full and that’s the most important thing.”
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