Numbers tell it: Increasing role of women in Saudi sports

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Last week, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) shared the great news that in sports, gender is not an issue.

The increasing level of awareness and interest in the field proved that women are as capable as men, and can be granted membership and positions at such a prestigious organization that engenders values through the promotion of sports to all mankind.

Within the framework of the IOC’s gender equality movement, it announced last week that female participation in the IOC commissions has more than doubled (from 20 percent in 2013).

The 2020 IOC commissions’ composition, which is established by the IOC president in tandem with the IOC executive board, also includes the appointment of two new female chairs — Khunying Patama Leeswadtrakul of Thailand, who has been appointed chair of the Culture and Olympic Heritage Commission, and China’s Zhang Hong, who will chair the newly formed IOC Coordination Commission for the 2024 Winter Youth Olympic Games.

According to Reuters, the IOC says women now account for nearly half of the membership of its commissions, an all-time high in the organization’s drive for gender equality. Across 30 IOC commissions, 47.7 percent of the positions are held by women, up from 45.4 percent in 2019.

“Advancing women in leadership roles in sport is truly a team effort, and I want to thank all those who have contributed to this for their continued support, commitment and inspiration,” said IOC President Thomas Bach.

Meanwhile, the situation is promising in Saudi Arabia as well. The first breakthrough was in 2008, when a royal decree was issued that had the first Saudi woman, Arwa Mutabagani, appointed as an official member of the Saudi Arabian Equestrian Federation. Mutabagani was also the first to supervise the Saudi women’s delegation at the 2012 London Olympics, where our brave women participated for the first time (Sarah Attar, athletics 800 meters, and Wejdan Shaharkhani, judo).

One of the recent international participations had the biggest Saudi women’s delegation consisting of more than 100 athletes and team leaders at the 6th Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Women Games in Kuwait in October 2019.

Dr. Razan Baker

In March 2016, another royal decree appointed Princess Reema bint Bandar director of women’s sports at the Ministry of Sports (MOS) and vice president of women’s affairs at the General Sports Authority. Princess Reema supported her peers and brought a team of Saudi women as she is a strong believer in their capabilities. Thanks to her, and to governmental support, the MOS now has female employees and members representing the 64 Saudi sports federations.

According to the latest statistics released by the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee (SAOC), 28 women were granted positions in Saudi sports federations in 2019 as board members in 28 Saudi sports federations, which makes up almost 43 percent of the total number of federations. Additional positions were also given to women in 39 (70 percent) sports federations such as coaches, administration, and technicians.

Under the presidency of Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, the SAOC also supported gender equality and four new positions were given to women in 2019, in addition to two more in 2020 in managerial and administrative positions.

I don’t believe this is a coincidence, and I do believe that when the time is right for the Kingdom, Saudis of both genders will work together with pride to honor their country and will not settle for less.

This is what we witnessed when the number of Saudi women athletes increased massively when presented with opportunities during the past two years. For example, one of the recent international participations had the biggest Saudi women’s delegation consisting of more than 100 athletes and team leaders at the 6th Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Women Games in Kuwait in October 2019.

According to the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the Tokyo Olympics is expected to have an almost equal number of female and male athletes for the first time, the IOC announced in March. The percentage of female athletes competing at the Olympics in Japan in July is expected to rise to nearly 49 percent, up from 34 percent in 1996, according to the IOC.

• Dr. Razan Baker is a director of international communication at the Saudi Olympic Committee, a specialist in corporate social responsibility in sports, and a sports columnist/journalist. Twitter: @RazanBaker

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News’ point-of-view

This article was first published in Arab News

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