The road to the Olympics has been more than a bumpy ride for many Muslim women. But a recent decision by Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Nayef to send female athletes to the London Games could mean that road is slowly getting easier to traverse.

The Associated Press cites a story from Saudi-owned London newspaper Al-Hayat, which says Nayef feels the 2012 Olympics are in line with Muslim standards for women's decency. His decision comes less than a month after the country initially refused to bring a female team to the games. Olympic officials, including former British Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell, urged Saudi Arabia (a country which bans women from driving) to change its mind and look at the London Games as an opportunity to move forward.

But the history of Muslim women in the Olympics has been one of one step forward, two steps back.

The first significant victory was In 1984, when Morocco's Nawal El-Moutawakel became the first Muslim woman to win an Olympic title -- she won the gold in Los Angeles for the 400-meter hurdles. Ruqaya Al-Gassra from Bahrain came in fifth place in the women's 100-meter sprint in Athens 2004, her entire body covered.

Of course, there have been plenty of upsets. Afghanistan was banned from the 2000 Sydney Games because of their oppression of women.

Last summer, the Iranian women's soccer team was banned from playing a qualifier against Jordan. Their body-covering uniform, which includes a head scarf, violates Fifa's rule for the 2012 Games, which bans any display of religious, political, commercial or personal messages on uniforms. But to maintain the Muslim standards for women's dress in Iran, the athletes had to play in full tracksuits and cover their hair.

"In reality, this kit is neither religious, nor political, nor will it lead to harm a player," Farideh Shojaei, the head of women's affairs for Iran's soccer federation, told the Guardian.

Saudia Arabia, Qatar and Brunei have never sent women to the Olympics, but the International Olympic Committee feels Nayef's decision will open doors for the remaining two countries.

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Qatar is set to host the FIFA World Cup in 2022. When asked if the absence of women from the London Games undermines Qatar as a World Cup host, London 2012 Chairman Sebastian Coe told the Daily Mail, "I certainly think that is something that the [International Olympic Committee] will be confronting. But it's a long road, and these things don't happen to change overnight."

While the change has been slow and often painful for many Muslim women, the decision from Saudi Arabia signals hope. Ibtihaj Muhammad, a 25-year-old fencer from Maplewood, New Jersey, is hoping to make it to London. If she qualifies, she'll be the first American woman to compete in the hijab. Afghanistan is also sending a woman to the games -- 17-year-old Sadaf Rahimi will fight for all Muslim female athletes when she enters the ring as Afghanistan's first female Olympic boxer.

Perhaps we are about to witness one of the most pivotal years for Muslim women in the Olympics.

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