Appointment of princess set to spark a change in female sport participation and lead to knock-on effect in society

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Princess Reema bint Bandar, the president of the Saudi Federation for Community Sports, is hoping to bring about change.
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Saudi girls warm up for football
Updated 22 October 2017
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Appointment of princess set to spark a change in female sport participation and lead to knock-on effect in society

BEIRUT: Saudi Arabia’s appointment of its first female head of sports should attract more women into gyms and on to sports pitches in a nation where women are not allowed to exercise with men, female sports organisers said last week.
US-raised Princess Reema bint Bandar last week became the first female president of the Saudi Federation for Community Sports that manages sports-related activities for both men and women in the Kingdom, local media reported.
Her appointment came amid a series of changes for women in Saudi Arabia hailed as a new progressive trend including giving women the right to drive and encouraging more women to work.
But a guardianship system, under which a male family member must grant permission for a woman to study, travel and other activities, remains in place.
Lina Al Maeena, who formed Jeddah United, Saudi Arabia’s first private female basketball club, in 2003, said the princess’ appointment was significant.
“It’s going to be changing stereotypes because of her appointment in that role as the head of both genders,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation from Jeddah.
Female participation in sports has long been a controversial issue in Saudi where women cannot exercise with men and there are no public sports facilities for women as many conservative Muslim clerics consider sport for females as immodest.
Saudi Arabia did not send any women to the Olympic Games until 2012.
Susan Turner, chief executive of NuYu, the kingdom’s first chain of female fitness centres, said bint Bandar’s appointment would bring women’s health to the “forefront”.
“It’s everybody’s right to have access to these facilities and to look after their health ... women are realising that if they are not doing (exercise) already it is just bringing those statistics and facts to light,” said Turner.
According to the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 reform plan, only 13 percent of the Saudi population exercises at least once a week. The plan aims to boost that number to 40 percent.
Bint Bandar — daughter of a former Saudi ambassador to Washington — championed the licensing of female-only gyms and sports clubs in her previous role leading the women’s section of the national General Sports Authority.
Turner said she hoped in addition to getting more women into sports her own business would benefit.
“For us to be able to grow more clubs and that we can get licences and knowing that somebody very confident and very capable is in charge of sports — it just gives us a huge amount of confidence,” Turner said by phone from Riyadh.
Al Maeena, who is also a member of the advisory Shura Council, said having a woman in the role would have a knock-on effect across Saudi society.
“I see a lot of business opportunities, a lot of women empowerment,” she said.


Joan Oumari makes case for Lebanon causing Asian Cup shock

Updated 18 October 2018
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Joan Oumari makes case for Lebanon causing Asian Cup shock

  • Lebanon have made it to their first Asian Cup since 2000 and are up to 77th in world rankings.
  • Oumari feels the Cedars have what it takes to upset a few of the big guns.

LONDON: While much of the focus ahead of the Asian Cup will be on defending champions Australia, who are one of the favorites, along with Japan and South Korea, Lebanon’s Joan Oumari is hoping his side can grab people’s attention and cause a shock or two.
The Cedars’ last appearance at the tournament came back in 2000 when they were hosts — this is the first time they have qualified for the tournament on merit.
Since their FIFA world ranking fell to 147 in 2016, Lebanon have been one of Asia’s most improved and in-form teams, with their ranking jumping to its current position of 77 — the highest in their history.
Drawn alongside regional heavyweights Saudi Arabia, Qatar and North Korea in Group E, it will not be easy, but Oumari, one of their star players, is convinced they can put on a show when the tournament gets under way in January.
“I think when we play and stay like we are now we can go far,” the defender told Arab News. “In football everything is possible and we have a great team.”
Oumari knows that just being back at the Asian Cup after a 19-year absence is already a victory for the nation of six million people.
“For sure it is a great thing for us as a national team, but also for all the people (of Lebanon),” the 30-year-old said. “I hope we will write history and get very far in this tournament.”
Oumari’s journey to play for the Cedars is an interesting, and not unfamiliar one in the recent climate of war, family displacement and refugees. His parents, both born in Lebanon, fled the country during the civil war of the 1970s, making their way to Germany, where Oumari was born in 1988.
Starting his professional career in the lower divisions, he gradually worked his way through the professional tiers of club football in Germany, playing for SV Babelsberg in the fourth division, FC Rot-Weiß Erfurt in the third tier, before making the step up to FSV Frankfurt in 2.Bundesliga in 2013.
Along the way he came to the attention of the Lebanon Football Association, and when the invitation came to join the Cedars in 2013, there was no hesitation in accepting and representing the country of his heritage, if not his birth.
“When I got the invitation from the national team for sure I didn’t have to think about it,” he recalled. “I was very proud to play for the national team.”
His debut in a 2-0 win against Syria in September 2013 did not go to plan, however, getting sent off late in the game. His next appearance would not come for almost two years after Miodrag Radulovic had taken over as coach.
“To be honest it was my decision not to play for the national team for these two years,” he said.
“The main reason was our ex-coach (Giuseppe) Giannini, because after he invited me to the national team I was on the bench and I am not used to flying all over the world just to sit on the bench.
“I am not a player who sits on the bench in my club and not in the national team. After Mr. Radulovic started at the national team the federation called me and convinced me to come.”
The change in fortunes for the Cedars since Radulovic took over has been remarkable, and as it stands they are one of the most in-form teams in Asia, going 16 games without a loss dating back to March 2016.
A friendly match with defending Asian Cup champions Australia in Sydney next month will be sure to provide tougher competition, but given their form they travel to Sydney confident of causing an upset.
While the Asian Cup is within touching distance, Oumari’s immediate focus is on club matters and trying to help his side avoid relegation. Having made the move to Japan’s Sagan Tosu, becoming the first Lebanese player to play in the J.League, Oumari has been in and out of a side that has struggled for consistency and currently lie 17th in the 18-team league.
“I hope that we can avoid relegation and stay up, that’s why I came to help the team,” he said.
One of his new teammates in Japan is Spanish World Cup winner Fernando Torres, and despite the team’s struggles on the field, Oumari is loving his time in Japan.
“It’s really nice here and I like it very much,” he said. “I am enjoying the time with my teammates after training. For sure Fernando (Torres) is a great football player and any football player can learn from him no matter which position you are playing.”