Time: 13 Sep 2018
HER ROYAL HIGHNESS PRINCESS REEMA BINT BANDAR AL SAUD OF SAUDI ARABIA HAS HELD MANY TITLES: CEO, ENTREPRENEUR AND PHILANTHROPIST. CURRENTLY, SHE’S THE PRESIDENT OF THE MASS PARTICIPATION FEDERATION AND THE DEPUTY OF DEVELOPMENT AND PLANNING FOR THE GENERAL SPORTS AUTHORITY – AND SHE IS PASSIONATE ABOUT INCORPORATING SPORT INTO THE LIVES OF MORE SAUDI ARABIANS.
Understanding Her New Role
Princess Reema admits that she was not a “sporty” person prior to taking her job with the Sports Authority. She knew the health benefits of physical activity, but was not very athletic. Yet, when it came to her new role, she integrated seamlessly.
“Initially, the role I was hired for was to figure out how to include women in sports activities,” she explains. “First, we did the landscape assessment to see what was actually happening in the country and what the needs were. What was super interesting was that we realised the needs for women were actually the same as the needs for young men. What was available to men was actually strategically focused on football, or soccer, as a sport, not holistic sports or general health.”
“So they created the Planning and Development department. Within that, I’m responsible for diversity and inclusion. So, obviously, women as a first track, but also individuals with disabilities. The second track I work on is understanding behavioural and mindset shifts. Our goal is to take a single-sport nation – and by that I mean football – and add more diversity to the sports that are played, and the population that is participating in them.”
Besides including more people in sport and adding more activities to the mix, Princess Reema is also looking to help her country grow a sports economy for the betterment of all people. “We know that if we invest in sport, we will by default have a healthier nation. Heart disease rates will go down. Diabetes rates will go down. Obesity rates will go down.” Already, she’s tackling huge issues within the world of sport.
Making Sport More Accessible for All
Some aspects of Princess Reema’s role are unique to Saudi Arabia: before 2017, women weren’t allowed in sports stadiums in the country. Princess Reema was even told in 2015 that she couldn’t use a stadium as the venue for a record-breaking breast cancer awareness event. But just as Princess Reema started in her role with the General Sports Authority, things started to change.
“I was sitting at a press conference when the chairman of the General Sports Authority made about 20 different announcements. All of the sudden he said, ‘And I’d like to state that in January, the General Sports Authority will be opening three sporting facilities for female attendance.’”
“I almost fell out of my chair. It was absolutely amazing. It was a great day in history for women in my country. Previously, it was not available for women to attend football matches, even as spectators. The sheer act of having women attend meant we now had to have female security guards. We had to have female ushers. We had to have female attendants. It created a whole wave of jobs for women.”
Princess Reema’s work continues to support this monumental societal shift in the way the country interacts with sport. Going forward, wives and daughters will be able to see their husbands or fathers play their sport in person at the stadium. Plus, a young girl could become interested in football itself. “Looking at it on TV is a very different experience to seeing it on the field,” notes Princess Reema.
Prioritising a Connected Family
Gender desegregation is a high priority in the country, not just in sports stadiums, but across the board. Princess Reema believes that sport will help drive this.
WOMEN PUBLICLY PARTICIPATING IN SPORTING ACTIVITIES WILL CHANGE THE WAY FAMILIES PERCEIVE WHAT A NORMAL FAMILY UNIT LOOKS LIKE AND IMPROVE COMMUNICATION BETWEEN GENDERS.Princess Reema
“It is really important for a young woman to feel confident in her ability to express her opinions and to have a discourse and a dialogue,” says Princess Reema. “There is no better place to practise than at home. So, when a family is connected and desegregated, communication skills change. Dialogue skills change. Even just basic male–female engagement changes when you segregate people and it changes when you reintegrate. When it comes to sport, having a desegregated household also teaches fair play and competition. When you’re playing amateur sports or hobby sports within a family dynamic, it shows that a boy can win one day, a girl can win one day, and it’s strategy and skills, not your gender, that gets you where you need to go.”
Finding Her Strengths
Though she did not get her start in athletics, Princess Reema has found her place within the Olympic community. “Just because I am a woman does not mean I am the best-equipped person to bring women into sport,” she says. “However, if you want to talk about the point of view of diversity and inclusion, and how can we get as many people involved and feel accepted within this world of sport from the point of view of social enterprise and social entrepreneurship, now you’re speaking my language.”
“This all relates back to Olympism. Olympism is a healthy sense of self that allows you to accept yourself and others and the right for yourself and others to live a healthy and balanced lifestyle that involves both physical activity and social integration. And it really, to me, represents a spirit of camaraderie, because what my understanding of sport was before I worked with this authority was very different from what I see sport doing today. It really is the connective tissue between communities.”