RIYADH - When Saudi Arabia's Olympic team appears in Beijing next month, it will be conspicuous for the absence of women.
Rashed al-Heraiwel, head of the Saudi delegation, confirmed no women would be in the lineup, apparently due to opposition by powerful clerics to women's participation in sport.
Heraiwel said now was not the time for the Saudi authorities to consider allowing women into sport.
"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it," he said, suggesting that issue had not been discussed due to the de-facto ban.
The Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee website (www.saudiolympic.org.sa) says the Olympic team will participate in five sports -- athletics, shooting, swimming, weightlifting and equestrian events -- but does not say how many athletes will attend the August 8-24 Games.
A strict Islamic state, Saudi Arabia is one of the only countries to keep women out of international sports events, despite efforts in recent years to change the situation.
Last April, the Saudi Equestrian Sports Federation appointed a woman, Arwa Mutabagani, to its board. This month Sarah Mouwad was appointed to a senior position in the college football league in Riyadh.
"I hope to make a dent in the Saudi sports scene in whatever way I can," she recently told al-Riyadh newspaper.
Three years ago, the Ministry of Education -- where religious conservatives hold sway -- rejected proposals to introduce physical education for girls in the school system.
Women cannot join gyms unless they cater specifically for them, and there are few of those. They are not allowed entry to sports stadiums to cheer on teams.
"I don't see what the problem is," said Fayyad al-Shammari, a sports columnist on al-Riyadh. "Calling for them to participate too hastily would not be prudent at this time. I have full confidence in the government and its decisions."
Neighbouring conservative Gulf Arab states have followed the path taken by many Muslim sportswomen who want to follow an Islamic dress code. Bahrain athlete Ruqaya Al-Ghasara races in a full body-suit and headscarf.
One religious scholar, Muhammed al-Habdan, published a book in 2006 railing against the idea of women in sports.
"This is exactly what the disbelievers in the West want," he told Reuters. "Their plan is to lure Muslim women out of their homes and subsequently out of their headscarf too."
However, a Saudi opposition activist called for a strong response against Riyadh's stance on women participation.
"Bar countries that ban women athletes," wrote Ali al-Ahmad in the International Herald Tribune in May, addressing the Olympic sports authorities.