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Saudi women allowed to compete, but will fear keep them home?

Saudi Arabia is under pressure to allow women to compete at the London Olympics. But Saudi women say they fear a backlash at home.

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Members of a Saudi female soccer team, including team captain Rawh Abdullah, left, practice at a secret location in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Will any of them go to the London Olympics?

(AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

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While Olympic leaders and human rights advocates are encouraged by signs that Saudi Arabia may bow to pressure and send female athletes to the Summer Games, women athletes in the ultraconservative kingdom are worried about a backlash at home.

Under pressure from the International Olympic Committee to end the tradition of sending men-only teams to the Olympics, Saudi Arabia said on Monday it will allow women who qualify to compete at the London Games.

The announcement came as the leadership's favored candidate, equestrian Dalma Rushdi Malhas, was ruled out of the Olympics — sending officials on a hunt for other female athletes they could include on the Saudi team and avoid IOC sanctions a month before the start of the games.

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Women who play soccer and basketball in underground leagues around Saudi Arabia support those efforts, yet they also fear the hardline Muslim leaders will punish them for being pressured by the West and will crack down on women's clandestine activities after the Olympic flame goes out in London.

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