- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 2, 2014

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) - IOC President Thomas Bach offered his support Wednesday for increasing the participation of female athletes from Saudi Arabia in the Olympics.

Bach held talks in Riyadh with Prince Nawaf Faisal Fahd bin Abdul-Aziz, an IOC member and president of the national Olympic committee in the ultra-conservative Muslim country.

The International Olympic Committee said the two discussed a strategy for sports development in the country through 2020.

“President Bach promised full support for the plan, which also included proposals to increase women’s participation in the Olympic Games and in sport in general,” the IOC said in a statement.

Saudi women are largely banned from participating in sports in the kingdom, although there are several soccer and basketball clubs that play in clandestine leagues. After prolonged negotiations with the IOC, Saudi Arabia sent women to the Olympics for the first time in 2012, with two female athletes competing at the London Games.

Saudi Arabia hopes to increase women’s participation at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro by introducing better training, particularly at the university level, the IOC said.

The IOC said Bach offered to work with international sports federations to draft a program for greater Saudi participation and help raise awareness of Olympic sports in the kingdom.

Bach’s visit to Saudi Arabia concluded a four-day trip to the region that also included stops in Kuwait and Qatar.

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