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How Saudi women have boosted the kingdom’s sporting spirit

How Saudi women have boosted the kingdom’s sporting spirit As we rejoice in the news that Princess Rima bint Bandar bin Sultan al-Saud has become the first Saudi woman to have been appointed the president’s undersecretary for the women’s section at the General Authority for Sports, it is important to discuss the history of Saudi women’s involvement in sports.

The decision was ratified at a Cabinet session on Monday and never in my dreams did I think that the female sports sector, once deemed politically incorrect, would be an integral part of the kingdom’s Vision 2030. One of the goals of the Saudi reform plan was to increase the population’s weekly physical activity from 13% to 40%. And as a survivor of depression, I have to say that sports has played a huge role in me fighting demotivation and sorrow.

The first girls school established by Queen Effat was launched in 1955, and was then followed by the first sports center in 1966 on the school’s premises. When King Abdulaziz University opened its doors to female students in 1967, it wasn’t until 1976 that – with a budget of 50,000 riyals – the university introduced table tennis, billiards and badminton. Girls went outside in the heat to play volleyball and basic court for the game was funded in 1982 until the sports center was finally established by the mid-80s. The first team sports tournament that ever took place was in 1988-1989 in King Abdulaziz University and was coached by one of its students and faculty member Lamia Mukhtar.

Welfare societies played a huge role in promoting women’s sports. The Al-Faisaliya Women’s Welfare Society in Jeddah in the 80s, headed by Princess Hissa bint Khaled bint Abdulaziz, had various programs from ascetic movement classes headed by Madawi Alhasson, aerobics by Maha Bokhari and swimming lessons by Sahar Naseef. In Khobar, a women’s health club under the Fatat Al-Khaleej welfare society ran for 30 years until it closed down two years ago due to permit difficulties.

The first Welfare society, the Princess Fawziya Center for Women and Children also played a major role in promoting women’s sports; they held annual open tournaments for basketball and volleyball and trained and certified many female athletes through collaborations with various basketball federations, as well as providing lifesaving programs and certification. These were headed by Nisreen Al-Edreesi, Salma Alireza and Leena Abuznada. […]

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