Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
Lubna Alomair

Saudi Women Spotlight

Female athletes change the game in Saudi

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Sarah Attar. Al Hasnaa Al Hammad. Farah Jefry. Sarah Al Jumaah. These are among the first talented female athletes from Saudi Arabia to make their mark on the world of sport. With opportunities for Saudi women who have dreams of competing in the national and international sports scene abounding, they won’t be the last. The kingdom is changing, and it’s changing fast. Weekly activity of female Saudi citizens increased from 8 percent in 2015 to 19 percent in 2019, which is an uptick of more than 100 percent in just five years. The goal? 40 percent of the population exercising once a week by 2030.

“I’m looking forward to it — to being part of the change,” says Alanoud Mohammed Algheriri, who is a Portfolio Manager at the Ministry of Sport (MOS).

“The main purpose [of the Diversity & Inclusion initiative] is to empower women’s sport in different areas,” she says. According to Algheriri, this means providing access to facilities, providing coaching courses, supporting the federations for female sports, and engaging in local and international competitions. “We are trying to raise awareness about the importance of the female sports and how can they support us in, for example, delivering programs, sponsoring events and providing facilities.”


Saudi Facts: Saudi Women in Sports

● In 2018, a royal decree allowed families to enter stadiums. Attendance at sporting games increased by 152 percent.
● 25 federations now have a national women’s team.
● 30 federations have at least one female board director.
● 67 percent of the Community Sport Groups have members that are women.
● More than 2,400 female athletes were registered in federations by the end of 2019.
● 66 female athletes competed in eight sports and won 11 medals during the Gulf Cooperation Council Games in 2019.
● 21 female athletes competed in the 2019 Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi in 2019. They took home 29 medals.
● A female athlete from Saudi Arabia (Al Hasnaa Al Hammad) won a gold medal in fencing for the first time in Saudi history during the Asian Cadet Circuit - Riyadh 2019.
● Women from the Saudi Arabia bowling team competed in the World Bowling Women’s Championship for the first time in the history of Saudi bowling in 2019.
● 72 female athletes played during the Arab Women Sports Tournament in Sharjah in 2020, the largest female delegation in Saudi as of August 2020. They won 12 medals.
● Sarah Al Jumaah qualified and will compete in the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo, which were moved to 2021.
● Saudi women’s teams played at the Global Goals World Cup in Copenhagen in May 2019, and in New York in September 2019.
Source: The MOS

The Next Generation of Athletes in Saudi

As a former soccer player, Algheriri enjoys her work and the goals she’s working toward with the Diversity & Inclusion initiative. “I was one of the athletes. I didn’t have the opportunity at that time,” she says. “But I will work hard to provide this opportunity to the next generation.”
In addition to the MOS’s initiatives, discovering and training new talent is a goal of the kingdom and a goal in which female athletes have a tremendous opportunity. In July 2020, Saudi Sports Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal unveiled the kingdom’s plans for Mahd Sports Academy, an ambitious project that’s anticipated to be one of the largest sporting academies in the world not only for boys but also for girls.
With facilities being built in Riyadh, Jeddah and Damman, the academy will offer both boys and girls ages 6 to 14 a place to learn and train for more than 20 different sports. The project will be in coordination with more than 10,000 physical education teachers who will help the academy identify talented athletes at elementary schools throughout the kingdom.
“We have numerous talents that need development — that’s been said and repeated [by many people] in our sports community and I’m one of them. It’s time we pay attention to our local talents and work on their improvement,” Prince Abdulaziz said at the unveiling.
In celebration of the announcement, Mahd (@Mahdacademy_EN) posted on Twitter, “It’s time for you, for her, for every talented kid.” The post included an inspirational video showcasing the shift toward appreciating, valuing, listening and training tomorrow’s athletes in Saudi Arabia, and it featured empowering footage of female athletes — from a young girl aggressively boxing a giant in the ring to another owning a powerful serve on a tennis court.
Prince Abdulaziz described Mahd as a “dream step” for the kingdom. The dreams of female athletes like Algheriri, are unfolding in real time. She describes watching Saudi’s first female national football team participating in the championship game as an inspiring experience. “My dream was to have a female football team, so at that time, when I saw the first female national team playing their first game and [reciting] the national oath — I can’t really explain that moment. It’s not forgettable at all.”