Sports in Saudi Arabia

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SOURCE: Saudi Embassy

Mar 30, 2018

Water Sports

Some of the world’s most beautiful living coral reefs are located beneath both the Red Sea and the Arabian Gulf.

A paradise for scuba divers and snorkelers, these coastal areas offer endless hours of underwater exploration.

Wind surfing, sailing and water skiing are also popular pastimes in the Gulf and Red Sea waters along the Saudi coast.

Also, some of the world’s best deep-sea fishing can be found in the Red Sea. The Coastal Sports Cities in Jeddah and Al-Khobar and other clubs offer opportunities for a variety of water sports and recreational activities.

Both traditional and modern sports are popular in Saudi Arabia. The people of the Arabian Peninsula have enjoyed sports for thousands of years, including horse and camel racing, falconry and hunting with hounds. Today, modern sports are also popular – especially soccer.

A special effort has been made to encourage sports and make them accessible to the public. Hundreds of facilities have been established throughout the Kingdom so that all Saudis can exercise regularly or enjoy popular spectator sports.

In addition, all levels of the Saudi educational system – from kindergarten through university – emphasize the importance of sports.

Modern sports

Soccer is by far the most popular modern sport in Saudi Arabia. Saudis of all ages have taken the game to heart, from children scrimmaging on playgrounds to international matches battled out in spectacular modern stadiums.

There is a professional Saudi soccer league that is wildly popular among Saudis – friends and families often gather to cheer on their favorite teams, both on television and in stadiums. The highlight of the Saudi soccer league is its championship tournament known as the King’s Cup. Fans also avidly follow the Saudi Arabian national soccer team in World Cup competition.

In addition to soccer, other organized sports have gained a following among Saudis, including volleyball, gymnastics, swimming and basketball.

Saudi Arabia has a number of first-class golf courses. American expatriates introduced golf to Saudi Arabia in the late 1940s when they created a course in the sand near Dhahran. They mixed oil with the sand to keep the course from blowing away, a method that is still used in the Kingdom. Today, there are lush, green courses in that look like they belong in the tropics.

Sports facilities

The Kingdom has a number of different types of sports facilities, ranging from major sports complexes to neighborhood facilities and clubs.

The huge sports complexes, called Sports Cities, are located in large population centers. Each complex has a stadium that can seat between 10,000 and 60,000 people, an indoor stadium seating 5,000, Olympic-size swimming pools, indoor and outdoor courts, playgrounds, conference halls, and sports medicine clinics.

Smaller than the Sports Cities, neighborhood sports facilities and playgrounds were built in large urban areas so that young Saudis can play sports like basketball and volleyball near their homes. These centers offer parks, open spaces, and facilities for indoor activities.

Local sports clubs are located in all cities and towns. They offer a range of facilities for different sports, including soccer fields, indoor and outdoor courts, swimming pools, playgrounds, recreational areas and accommodations for youth camps. These clubs organize local events throughout the year.

Development of Sports

The introduction of a national education system in the 1950s was the first step in the development of modern sports in Saudi Arabia. An integral part of the education system, sports spread throughout the country as new schools were built in large cities and small towns alike.

The development of sports acquired momentum with the introduction of the First Development Plan (1970-74). At the time, a decision was made to establish a nationwide network of sports facilities that could be enjoyed and used by all. The plan called for the construction of sports and athletic facilities, the establishment of recreational programs and the creation of clubs for the Kingdom’s youth.

A further step in encouraging public participation in sporting activities was taken in 1974 with the establishment of the General Presidency of Youth Welfare (GPYW). Its mandate is to make sporting, recreational and cultural facilities and events accessible to young Saudis throughout the country and to get as many people interested and involved in these activities as possible.

The presidency’s activities complement those of the Ministry of Education, which is responsible for maintaining physical education programs within the school system, and the Ministry of Higher Education, which oversees sports programs at Saudi Arabia’s universities and colleges. Today, schools, colleges and universities emphasize sports as an integral part of their curriculum.

Outside the country’s educational system, the GPYW is the primary provider of sports facilities and programs. With almost unlimited moral and material support from Saudi leaders, the GPYW has put into place a formidable sports structure and program that covers the entire country. Based on studies on population density and needs in various parts of the Kingdom, the GPYW initiated a three-tier program.

The first provides for the establishment of huge sports complexes — called Sports Cities — in major population centers. These gigantic facilities are scattered throughout Saudi Arabia, and more are being built. Each has a multipurpose stadium with a seating capacity of between 10,000 and 60,000, a 5,000-seat indoor stadium, Olympic-size swimming pools, indoor and outdoor courts and playgrounds, cafeterias, halls for conferences and clinics for sports medicine.

The second tier of the GPYW’s sports program concentrates on establishing smaller neighborhood sports facilities and playgrounds in large urban centers where young Saudis can play basketball, volleyball and other sports near their homes. In addition to parks and open spaces, these centers also have buildings where indoor recreational activities can be arranged.

The third tier focuses on making sports facilities available in smaller population centers by establishing Sports Clubs in all cities and towns. Although not as large as the Sports Cities, these clubs meet the needs of residents of towns and villages. Differing in size according to the number of residents of the town, the clubs offer a range of facilities for different sports, including soccer fields, indoor and outdoor courts, swimming pools, playgrounds, recreational areas and accommodations for youth camps.

Sports training programs in a diverse range of fields from archery to soccer are available to Saudis of every age at the country’s sports facilities, large and small. Though open to all, they are intended to introduce young Saudis to various sporting activities and offer training at different levels. In addition to building sports facilities, the GPYW has also introduced programs to encourage their use by the general public. To achieve that objective, it has introduced a program of annual events on the local and national levels at all its facilities. These include competition in local leagues, ‘Sports for All’ gatherings and ‘Folk Games Days’.

GPYW sports clubs organize neighborhood and local sporting events throughout the year. The more accomplished athletes are sent by these clubs to participate in the 200 or so annual district and national sports events organized by the GPYW. Athletes who excel at these events are enrolled in special training camps for serious local and national competition. Twenty youth sports camps throughout the country host thousands of young Saudis every year. Equipped with modern sleeping, dining, sports and recreational facilities, they offer sports training in an atmosphere that emphasizes Saudi Arabia’s heritage.

The best young athletes emerging from these programs are then selected for intensive training to represent Saudi Arabia in international events. The Kingdom’s 18 sports federations, which are supervised by the GPYW, organize leagues and tournaments for these athletes to sharpen their skills. Additionally, athletes and teams attend more than 40 sporting events outside the country each year and participate in major international sporting events inside the Kingdom.

International Competition

Saudi Arabia’s extensive sports program has brought about not only a quantitative growth of sports, but also a dramatic qualitative improvement. The performance of Saudi athletes has improved steadily since the Kingdom joined the International Olympic Committee in 1965.

Since the early 1980s, Saudi athletes have proudly represented the Kingdom in an increasing number of regional and international competitions. The Saudi soccer team qualified for its first appearance in 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

In 1989, Saudi Arabia hosted the fifth World Youth Soccer Cup Championship, won the championship, and received a special commendation from FIFA, the international soccer federation, for the outstanding manner in which it has organized the event.

In 1994, the Saudi national soccer team represented Asia at the World Cup finals in the United States, reached the second round, and received accolades for their playing. Saudi Arabia continues to participate in the World Cup every four years.

The Kingdom also participated in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, and the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, with competitors in the equestrian, wrestling, and track and field events as well as in soccer.

In 2006, Saudi Arabia won the Learning Disability World Cup for soccer in Leverkusen, Germany.

Saudi Arabia is also home to several Little League baseball teams, one of which has qualified over a dozen times for the Little League Baseball World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.


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