Frankly Speaking: Saudi Sports Minister on efforts to make the kingdom more athletic, and a destination for global competitions


Frankly Speaking host Frank Kane speaks to Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Sports HRH Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal. (AN Photo)
  • Contribution of sports industry to local GDP grew from SAR2.4 in 2016 to SAR6.5 billion in 2019, says Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal
  • Vice President of Olympic Committee says Saudi Arabia welcomes all athletes to sporting events, even from countries with no diplomatic ties

RIYADH: In a wide-ranging interview for the latest episode of Frankly Speaking, Saudi Arabia’s Minster of Sports, HRH Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal spoke to Arab News’s Frank Kane on the challenges and opportunities of turning the kingdom into a sporting nation, and a destination for international sporting events.

The minister also stressed the positive and influential contribution of the industry to the wellbeing in Saudi society through its inclusion of women and contributions to the country’s GDP.

Answering a question on what the kingdom can do more to prove the repeated western media accusations of “sports washing” wrong, Prince Abdulaziz explained that hosting international sporting events is a part of Vision 2030’s wide ranging strategy that aims first and foremost to benefit Saudi Arabia.

“Call it whatever you want to call it, but this (vision 2030) is a strategy that has been launched, that is ongoing, that is changing social life within the Kingdom,” he said during the interview.

“We’ve seen the first tourist visa happening because of a Formula E event that happened in 2018 which launched which became a tourist visa.”

As for the economical impact of sports, which as per HRH is an integral part of Vision 2030, he said “contribution to the GDP in 2016 was SAR2.4 billion ($640 billion), today it is SAR6.5 billion ($1.7 billion) in 2019”

And as for social impact of athleticism, Prince Abdulaziz said that “All of our programs today that we do in the ministry of sports and the Federation is all about diversity and inclusion.”

“They’re [Women] finding support also from the the players and their families. Things are changing and things are changing to the positive and we have to make sure that it changes in the right way.”

Prince Abdulaziz also stressed on separation sports from politics. When asked about if Saudi Arabia will participate in Qatar’s 2022 World Cup if it (the kingdom) qualifies, he said: “Our national team goes there and their national team comes here so that’s not going to be an issue hurting our performance.”

The minister’s comments were echoed by the Vice President of the Olympic Committee Prince Fahad bin Jalawi bin Abdulaziz, who spoke separately in Riyadh with Arab News Assistant Editor-in-Chief Noor Nugali about Saudi Arabia’s bid and efforts to host the 2030 Asian Games.

When asked if the kingdom would welcome athletes from countries it has no diplomatic ties with, Prince Fahad said: “we already hosted a lot of international events and Asian events and there are participants from countries we don’t have diplomatic relations with. We’re talking about sports and sport people are welcome to come to Saudi Arabia in any event.”

Watch the full episode here:

This article was first published in Arab News

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Adwa Al-Arifi, undersecretary of planning and development at the Ministry of Sports


Adwa Al-Arifi

Adwa Al-Arifi has recently been  appointed as undersecretary of planning and development at the Ministry of Sports.
She attended Al-Yamamah University in Riyadh, obtaining a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 2011. As an undergraduate student, Al-Arifi founded the Al-Yamamah Female Football Club in 2007 and acted as president of the university’s student council.
In 2008, she founded the Riyadh Female Football Committee, with the aim of developing regulations and rules for football leagues, management and planning, as well as training and referee workshops.
Al-Arifi started her journey with Saudi Fransi Capital in 2012 as part of an asset management rotation program for fresh graduates and was recruited a year later as a portfolio officer in that department. Between 2014 and 2016, she served as a fund manager, building up her expertise in the stock exchange and in asset relativity across different markets.
Halfway through 2016, she consulted for Portas Consulting, where she focused on project analysis and strategy implementation in Saudi Arabia’s sports scene. In 2019, Al-Arifi joined the Ministry of Sports as an investment director.
Having accumulated 10 years of experience in the Saudi football scene, she is making history with her accomplishments in the Kingdom’s sports sector.
Al-Arifi was nominated to become a member of the Saudi Olympics Council by the Saudi Olympic Committee. In December 2019, she became a board member.
Earlier that same year, she was the first Saudi woman appointed to the Saudi Football Federation, joining a seven-member committee.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Dr. Razan Baker, chairperson of the International Bowling Federation’s (IBF) Women in Sport Committee


Dr. Razan Baker of Saudi Arabia has been appointed chairperson of the International Bowling Federation’s (IBF) Women in Sport Committee by IBF President Sheikh Talal Mohammed Al-Sabah.
Baker currently serves on the Saudi Bowling Federation (SBF) board. She is also director of international communications for the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee.
Growing up in a family of sports enthusiasts, Baker followed her dream of becoming a sports columnist for Arab News. Noticing the limited number of sports role models for young women in Saudi Arabia, she embarked on an initiative to support Saudi women bowlers. With the support and guidance of President of the SBF Bader Al-Alshaikh, she is working to further develop women’s sporting skills so that they may play at the international level.
A breakthrough in this initiative came in 2019 when, for the first time in Saudi sports history, the SBF sent a women’s team to compete at the World Bowling Women’s Championships in Las Vegas. Baker served as the team manager. Over the past two years, the SBF has more than quadrupled its athlete membership, an achievement realized through the outstanding work that the federation has done to support women in sports.
Sheikh Talal said: “Baker has been a big part of this success and therefore her appointment to lead the IBF’s Women in Sport Committee was not a difficult decision. I and the IBF executive board look forward to working with her in the future to champion our female athletes to the next level.”
Baker will lead a team of committee members in establishing strategies that advocate for the increased participation of female athletes in bowling and in leadership positions within the IBF and its member federations.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Bubbles as Saudi Arabia holds its first women’s golf tournament


Players will be kept entertained by a bowling alley and gyms at their hotels. (Supplied)

More than 1,500 coronavirus tests to be carried out during the events
JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia is welcoming back international live sports with safe zones as it prepares to hold its first professional women’s golf tournament.

“Bubbles” and a biosecure environment at King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) will be in place throughout the elite-level European Ladies Tour golf tournaments that are starting from next week.

The $1 million Aramco Saudi Ladies International, presented by the Kingdom’s Public Investment Fund, runs between Nov. 12-15, while the $500,000 Saudi Ladies Team International takes place between Nov. 17-19.

The bubbles will be home to between 500 and 600 people across three weeks, and the tournament will see more than 1,500 COVID-19 tests conducted, including at least three each for the events’ 110 players. There will also be testing for caddies and tournament staff.

Ladies European Tour players, event staff and personnel will have COVID-19 tests upon arrival in KAEC, before being permitted to enter the safe zones ahead of the tournament, where they will be in hotels for the event duration.

These measures have been implemented to ensure the health and safety of everyone, with all aspects of player and staff safety watched over by independent specialists who are experts in risk assessment and COVID-19 best practices. They include Dr. Andrew Murray, key adviser to Sport England and a technical advisor to the World
Health Organization.

There will be daily symptom checking on everyone within the bubbles, with contingency plans in place.

Majed Al-Sorour, CEO of Golf Saudi and the Saudi Golf Federation, said: “We have been building a safe and secure zone to bring back international sports to the Kingdom while adhering to COVID-19 precautionary measures. The area is designed to ensure that we can provide a secure environment to host Ladies European Tour golfers, but also protect the wider community. The landmark event will allow us to showcase that Saudi Arabia is ready to once again host major global events, while also developing the great game of golf and inspiring the next generation of young Saudis and Saudi golfers.”

The tournament is at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club, which has been adapted to suit COVID-19 precautionary measures and will be sanitized throughout the run-up and duration of both events.

A 2-meter physical distance must be maintained at all times, with players and caddies the exception to this rule.

Away from the golf course, players will be kept entertained by a bowling alley, games room, cinema screen, gyms and swimming pools at their hotels.

Both tournaments will attract many of the world’s best golfers, with the Saudi Ladies Team International set to be the first time in women’s golf history that professionals — themselves competing in the Kingdom for the first time — will partner with amateurs in a points-earning Tour event.

The tournament marks the return of major international sporting events to the Kingdom, with the country aiming to inspire the next generation under the Saudi Vision 2030 reform plan.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi Arabia to host Formula 1 race in 2021

Time: 06 November 2020

Minister of Sport Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, Formula 1 Group CEO Chase Carey and the chairman of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al-Faisal pose for a photo. (Supplied)
  • Prestige event puts Kingdom in driving seat as global sports center, minister says
  • Prince Abdul Aziz: Welcome to Formula 1 and welcome to the champions

LONDON: Saudi Arabia announced on Thursday that it will host a Formula 1 Grand Prix in its Red Sea coastal city of Jeddah in November, 2021.

Announcing the race in a ceremony on the Jeddah waterfront, Minister of Sport Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal said that the high-profile event will increase tourist numbers to the Kingdom.

“Welcome to Formula 1 and welcome to the champions,” Prince Abdul Aziz said.

He said that the race will help the Kingdom become a center for international sporting events.

“We realize the extent to which the people of Saudi Arabia are keen to always be at the center of the most important sporting and international events, especially that this is the first opportunity to follow Formula 1 races on Saudi land,” the minister said.

“Formula 1 races will be a great opportunity in the future to further promote positive developments in society, provide more options to enrich the life of our community and encourage it to test new experiences,” Prince Abdul Aziz added.

The race will be held in the Kingdom as part of a 15-year partnership between the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation and Formula 1.

The Jeddah Corniche will be the start and end point of the race, and a variety of recreational and cultural events will add to spectators’ enjoyment.

Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al-Faisal, chairman of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation, said that the Kingdom is well qualified to host events such as the Formula 1 race.

Saudi Arabia has “learned a lot from hosting the Dakar Rally, the electric Formula E series,” and other sporting events during the past two years, he said.

The CEO and executive chairman of the Formula 1 Group, Chase Carey, welcomed the announcement.

“Saudi Arabia is growing tremendously to become a major center for sport in the world, and this is evident through the many international events it had held in past years, and now it will host one of the Formula 1 tours,” Carey said.

He said the Kingdom “is a very important region for us,” adding that about 70 percent of the Saudi population is under 30.

“That is why we are excited to communicate and interact with them, and enhance their great passion for Formula 1,” the CEO added.

The Saudi Grand Prix appears on the provisional F1 calendar for 2021 that has been distributed to race teams. It is expected to be the penultimate race of the 2021 season, which will end with the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at the Yas Marina circuit.

Jeddah will host the Saudi race until a new purpose-built track at Qiddiyah is completed in 2023.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi megaproject NEOM to build world’s smartest city

Time: 13 October 2020  

Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Sport signed an MoU with NEOM to help it become a global destination for sporting activities. (SPA)
  • The NEOM CEO said the cooperation with the Sports Ministry aims to create a vibrant environment to attract global talent from around the world

RIYADH: Saudi Sports Minister Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal and NEOM CEO Nazmi Al-Nasr signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) at the ministry’s headquarters in Riyadh on Monday.
The ministry will cooperate with NEOM to help the world’s smartest city become a global destination for various physical and electronic sports.
The sports minister vowed to continue the development of the sports industry in the Kingdom. He said the Kingdom is working relentlessly to ensure a sustainable environment for athletes.
The NEOM CEO said the cooperation with the Sports Ministry aims to create a vibrant environment to attract global talent from around the world.
He said investments in the sports sector are growing significantly in the Kingdom.
“The memorandum will allow exploring all possible opportunities and building sports entities that will help empower the Saudi youth and NEOM resident,” he said.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi woman to run for sports club presidency

Time: 15 September 2020

Awatef Al-Sahoo (not in the picture) told Arab News that her nomination was inspired by her belief that the role of women is important in society. (AFP/File)
  • The move is a first for the sports scene in the Kingdom and in line with Vision 2030 objectives

JEDDAH, MAKKAH: From being a fan to co-chairing an all-male Saudi club, a love of football runs deep in Awatef Al-Sahoo, the first Saudi female to run for the presidency of a club.

The unexpected move is a first for the sports scene in the Kingdom. Al-Sahoo presented her candidacy for the presidency of Al-Qalaa FC in Al-Jouf, becoming the first Saudi woman to take the step.
She presented her candidacy papers for the presidency of the club’s board of directors last Thursday, amid competition with a list of names. Al-Sahoo wants to present a file, which focuses on establishing a women’s sports council to serve sports in Saudi Arabia, and she hopes to be accepted by the sporting community.
She told Arab News that her nomination was inspired by her belief that the role of women is important in society, especially for female athletes, as they create balance and integration, and can be examples of women reaching their full potential.
With her husband and family’s support for the nomination, her story began with her marriage to athlete Ahmed Al-Sahoo, who was a gateway to the world of sports for her. She said she was enthusiastic about becoming president of Al-Qalaa FC because of sports competitions.
“My home turned into a management center for the club and its affairs, with Al-Qalaa FC becoming a second home that is valued and supported with all their effort,” she said.
Al-Sahoo is unafraid of losing the elections in two weeks’ time, which shows her determination to fight, “by exercising my right to vote, establish a community sports channel capable of developing society in a cultural, social and civilized way, in accordance with the highest standards and modern technology that indicate success and excellence, is what I’m aiming for,” she said.


• Awatef Al-Sahoo presented her candidacy for the presidency of Al-Qalaa FC in Al-Jouf last week.

• She wants to establish a women’s sports council to serve sports in Saudi Arabia.

Last year, Kholoud Attar became one of the first women to join a football club. She is now head of Makkah’s Al-Wehda FC media center. She told Arab News that the Kingdom is ready to see what women have to offer in the field of sports.
“I always admire women who bypass gender issues and only focus on contributing their time to something new. I think it’s very brave and I’m sure she will do it and she’ll do a great job,” Attar said.
“I fully support her decision. If anything, working in the sports field and managing Al-Wehda FC, I realized that the Kingdom is ready for all the great work and opportunities women can give for this field.”
Al-Sahoo’s bold decision is by all means a great start for an integrated system, but also one that has gained the respect of women in the region.
Many people on social media have hailed her nomination as “brave and influential.”
Al-Sahoo said: “My success in the next elections is the success of all ambitious Saudi women who would like to show the world who they are, what they can give and who have fought in order to achieve these historical moments that will be positively registered in the march of Saudi women who have entered all domains courageously.”
Ahmed Al-Sahoo, her husband, whose presidency of Al-Qalaa FC recently ended, said her nomination is a wish she has been eagerly awaiting.
She is a leading figure who carries Al-Jouf citizens’ hopes and ambitions, and her loss in the elections will be a loss for all ambitious women from her generation, he added.
He said it was important to support and encourage women in their ambitions in the sports field and ensure their success.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi club Al-Hilal impresses with social media success


Al-Hilal after winning a record-equaling third Asian Champions League title in November last year in Saitama, Japan. (Files/AFP)

LONDON: When Al-Hilal became Asian champions for the third time last November, they joined Pohang Steelers of South Korea as the most successful teams in the continent’s history. When it comes to social media however, it is clear who is No. 1 in Asia.

With 9 million followers on Twitter, Al-Hilal are head and shoulders above the rest and have 150 times more followers than Pohang. It is not just about Asia; Al-Hilal rank alongside the biggest clubs in the world on the platform and surpass the likes of European giants Bayern Munich and Juventus.

Other leading teams in the Saudi Pro League are also far ahead of continental counterparts, with Al-Ittihad close to 4 million and Al-Nassr near 3 million. Some of Asia’s biggest clubs, such as Urawa Reds of Japan with their 400,000 followers, can only dream of such figures. Only Indonesian giants can come close, with Persija Jakarta at 2.9 million followers on Twitter and Persib Bandung at 3.3 million.

In 2019, the Saudi league was ranked as the third-highest league in the world in terms of fan interaction on social media. Tweets about the league reached 80 million from 40 million accounts, surpassing the Bundesliga, Serie A and Ligue One. Only the English Premier League and La Liga had higher rates of engagement.

How have Saudi clubs done it? That is a question that people are starting to ask around Asia. One reason is the sheer numbers on Twitter. “It has always been by far the most popular social media platform in Saudi Arabia,” said Wael Jabir, founder and CEO of Ahdaaf, a Dubai-based football digital content company. “In fact, Saudi Arabia has one of the highest percentages of population on the platform worldwide.”

Jabir noted that Al-Hilal have improved their quality of late but believes that these clubs gain a major advantage from the size of their fanbases. “I’d even argue that the top four Saudi clubs are not even the best in the league in terms of social media content quality, but their popularity is such that above average content gets massive engagement.”


Al-Hilal and other Saudi teams are not going to rival the likes of Barcelona in terms of global profile, but they can raise their standing across the world.

That engagement leads to a higher quality social media presence, however, as fans and clubs interact.

“If we take a look on Al-Hilal’s social media platforms, we will see how most of their content is football-related,” Xavi Bove, sports marketing consultant, said. “Lineups, results, goals celebrations or post-game photographs are predominant in their feed. The club publishes original content regarding players’ birthdays or families.” The Spaniard believes that more behind-the-scenes or fan-generated content would improve the product further. “Such strategies have been very useful for clubs like FC Barcelona.”

Al-Hilal and other Saudi teams are not going to rival the likes of Barcelona in terms of global profile, but they can raise their standing across the world.

“Leveraging Saudi fan passion across the digital landscape together with the expansion to international markets through the signing of foreign players and more content beyond football can surely boost Saudi teams’ exposure in global markets,” Bove said. “A conscious exercise of branding and storytelling will become crucial to create more interest and trust both locally but especially globally, since football is shifting toward the industry of entertainment rather than sport. And, of course, success on the pitch is always important to attract fans and followers, as we tend to seek brands that genuinely inspire us.”

Bove added that signing big stars from countries such as Brazil helps increase awareness, but Kim Myung-won, a Seoul-based social media and communications expert, believes Asia should be a first port of call, especially as nations such as South Korea and Japan have a lot to learn from Saudi teams.

“Just follow the posts ahead of a game. A map of the world is posted with all the different times listed, which fans in different countries can watch,” said Myung-won. “It is simple but effective in showing that the club sees itself as an inclusive international brand. It is a call to action, too.”

Video content is also hugely important. Myung-won pointed to Al-Nassr’s welcome of South Korean international defender Kim Jin-su, who was signed at the end of August.

The video opened overlooking the megacity of Seoul with Jin-su packing his bags in a hotel room and telling fans of his new club how much the move meant to him.

“It was simply but beautifully done,” said Myung-won. “It showed a little of Jin-su and his homeland and immediately brought the player closer to fans. Signing a left-back from South Korea is not going to get fans too excited, but this video makes a difference.”

For too long, Myung-won says, the rest of Asia have either not known of the social media success of Al-Hilal, Al-Nassr and other teams in Saudi Arabia, or have not cared. That should change.

“Clubs here in Korea and Japan think that they can learn only from Europe, but officials should be flying to Saudi Arabia,” said Myung-won.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Roaa Qattan, Asian Football Confederation-certified Saudi football coach


Roaa Qattan. (Supplied)

  • Qattan was one of only three female Saudi football coaches certified by the AFC

Roaa Qattan is an Asian Football Confederation-certified Saudi football coach. In February, the Saudi Sports for All Federation (SFA) launched the Women’s Football League (WFL), the first of its kind in the Kingdom, to develop the sport for Saudi women and promote inclusivity.
Qattan was one of only three female Saudi football coaches certified by the AFC and selected to lead Arabic training sessions as part of the international UN Global Goals World Cup 2019 Virtual Clubhouse, which ran online until July 9.
Qattan said the Virtual Clubhouse offers a chance to those who wish to join the Green Team in its Arabic training sessions.
“We were selected and tasked with preparing content for the training sessions in a way that was easy to set up and using simple Arabic. I wouldn’t be able to succeed without the support of the Green Team members and SFA management, which is committed to achieving the General Sports Authority goals under Vision 2030,” she said.
Qattan completed her bachelor’s degree in accounting from King Abdul Aziz University (KAU) in 2005. In 2011, she received an open water diver’s license from the Professional Association of Diving Instructors in Jeddah. She holds an INSEP diploma of sport sciences and has a C-license from the Asian Football Confederation, which she earned in 2018.
She is the founder of the Jeddah Wave football team and has been coaching teams since its establishment in 2018. A year later, she joined Green Team, the official women’s football team representing Saudi Arabia for the Global Goals World Cup, and helped coach it.
She was named best physical education teacher in the Arab region at the Women Sport Conference in Cairo in 2019.

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