The IOC shot down a suggestion by a Saudi Arabian official Tuesday that the ultraconservative nation could seek to co-host the Olympics with neighbouring Bahrain by having male and female athletes compete in separate countries.
Prince Fahad bin Jalawi Al Saud, an international relations consultant to the president of the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee, told a French Olympic website that resolutions passed by the IOC last month open the door for a possible joint bid with men's events on Saudi territory and women's competitions in Bahrain.
But IOC President Thomas Bach quickly dismissed the idea in a statement to The Associated Press, saying Saudi Arabia would be ineligible to bid for the Olympics unless it complies with rules barring discrimination against women in sports.
"A commitment to 'non-discrimination' will be mandatory for all countries hoping to bid for the Olympics in the future," Bach said. "This was made very clear in the Olympic Agenda 2020 reforms and will even be in the host city contract.
"If this is not applied, the bid would not be admissible. Countries like Saudi Arabia must really work to allow female athletes to 'freely participate."'
Saudi Arabia sent two women to 2012 London
Saudi women are largely unable to access sports, including in public schools where physical education is not on the curriculum for girls. The Gulf country sent two women to the Olympics for the first time at the 2012 London Games. However, the Saudis sent a male-only team to last year's Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea.
Fahad said in an interview with the Francs Jeux website published Monday that a Saudi-Bahrain joint candidacy would be allowed under the Olympic Agenda 2020 reform package approved by the IOC in Monaco.
The changes opened the door to holding events outside a host city or country, as well as possible joint bids by cities, neighbouring countries or regions, but only in "exceptional cases."
"You cannot simply 'outsource' certain issues to another territory," IOC spokesman Mark Adams told the AP on Tuesday when asked about the Saudi suggestion.
Female access to exercise is shunned by hard-line religious clerics in Saudi Arabia, who warn it could blur gender lines and expose women to licentiousness. Women often struggle to find facilities to train, and are not allowed to attend matches in stadiums. A Saudi female was detained for days last year for sneaking into a stadium in the kingdom to watch a football match.
Difficult to bid for cultural reasons
Fahad acknowledged Saudi Arabia faces "certain cultural constraints," especially involving women.
"Our society can be very conservative," he said in the Francs Jeux interview. "It has a hard time accepting that women can compete in sports, especially in swimming. Wearing sports clothing in public is not really allowed. For these cultural reasons, it is difficult to bid for certain big international events."
But Fahad maintained that bidding for the Olympics with another Middle Eastern country was now a possibility.
"We could envisage it with Bahrain," he said. "We have always had a form of co-operation with that country. Since the vote on Agenda 2020, we could envisage a joint bid. Bahrain would hold the women's events, we would hold the men's competitions."
Bach travelled to Riyadh last year and urged the Saudis to increase the participation of female athletes in the Olympics. Saudi Arabia hopes to do that at next year's Olympics in Rio de Janeiro by introducing better training, particularly at the university level, the IOC said at the time.
Saudi Arabia currently has no full IOC member.
Prince Nawaf Faisal Fahd bin Abdul-Aziz stepped down last July as president of the Saudi Olympic Committee and relinquished his IOC membership. He serves as an honorary IOC member.