DOHA, Qatar (AP) — One of Qatar's first female athletes to compete at the Olympics will be the flag-bearer for the opening ceremony at the London Games.
Qatar's Olympic Committee posted a statement late Wednesday on Twitter saying shooter Bahiya al-Hamad has been chosen to "raise the Qatar flag at London 2012."
"I'm truly proud and humbled to carry the Qatar flag among my fellow athletes from all over the world," al-Hamad said on Twitter.
Along with Saudi Arabia and Brunei, Qatar has never previously sent female athletes to the Olympics.
The tiny but wealthy oil-rich nation of Qatar has made women's participation in sports a key component of its quest to become a Middle Eastern sporting power by bidding for high-profile competitions, such as winning the rights to host the 2022 soccer World Cup.
Al-Hamad was Qatar's most successful athlete at the 2011 Arab Games, winning three gold medals and two silver. The International Olympic Committee offered the 19-year-old shooter a wild-card invitation to compete in the 10-meter and women's air rifle competition at the London Games.
Qatari female swimmer Nada Arkaji and sprinter Noor al-Malki have also been given wild cards by the IOC.
The flag-bearer announcement followed reports that Saudi Arabia — Qatar's bigger and more influential neighbor — has reversed its pledge to send female athletes to the Olympics.
Saudi leaders have been under pressure to end the practice of sending all-male teams to international competitions. A report in Saudi-owned newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat said this week that no female athletes have qualified for the Olympics and therefore no women will be included in the team.
The IOC said in a statement to The Associated Press that it remains optimistic in ongoing talks with the ultraconservative Muslim kingdom about sending women to the games, which start July 27.
Human Rights Watch was critical of the report in the pan-Arab daily newspaper, an important media tool for Saudi rulers, and urges the IOC to bar the country from participating at the London Games for violating the equality rules in the Olympic Charter.
Brunei is expected to include women on its Olympic team for the first time.