Has the growing female participation in the Olympics from countries like Saudi Arabia and Brunei had a meaningful impact at home, or it is just a gesture for a global audience?

Sarah Attar walked into London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Stadium four years ago wearing a uniform that she and her mother put together a few weeks earlier. From her closet, Attar chose a green long-sleeve shirt, black pants, and a white hijab—the colors of Saudi Arabia’s flag. The San Diego native, 19 years old at the time, was the first woman to run in the Olympics for Saudi Arabia, and the country did not have an official uniform for its female athletes.

As she crossed the finish line in last place, nearly 40 seconds slower than the winners of her 800-meter preliminary heat, eighty thousand people filling the stadium rose from their seats and gave her a standing ovation.

A hundred and twelve years after the IOC first allowed women to compete, London marked the first time that all 206 National Olympic Committees sent female athletes to the Games; the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Brunei Darussalam and Qatar were the final holdouts. To many observers, Attar and her fellow athletes’ participation was a sign of progress for three countries that have not traditionally provided a way for women in sports, either because it was not a priority or because, as in Saudi Arabia, it was outright discouraged.

This story was published at VICE Sports.

Photo: Jack Gruber-USA TODAY Sports

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