Everest conqueror says end of Saudi Arabia stadium ban can inspire a generation

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REMARKABLE RAHA: The first Saudi woman to climb Everest is excited about the future of women’s sport in KSA. (Arab News)
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Wojdan Shaherkani made history at the London Olympics. (Reuters)
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Saudi Arabian female athletes lapping up the atmosphere at the London Games. (Reuters)
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Sarah Attar became a national hero and inspiration to millions around the world with her London Olympics run. (AP)
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Updated 10 November 2017
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Everest conqueror says end of Saudi Arabia stadium ban can inspire a generation

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s decision to grant women access to sports stadiums for the first time will go down as a watershed moment in the history of the Kingdom. That’s according to Raha Moharrak, who in 2013 became the youngest Arab and first Saudi woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest. Moharrak hopes the end of the stadium ban will inspire girls across the Kingdom.
The decision to allow women into stadiums across the country was made last month, meaning that from early 2018 women will be allowed into arenas in major cities, according to the General Sport Authority, the country’s governing body for sports.
Coming on the back of plans to increase female participation in sport throughout Saudi Arabia, optimism is building that this will not just represent a small pinprick in the dam of division, but signal an emphatic opening of the Saudi sporting floodgates.
And for Moharrak the news is just what is needed to get women across Saudi Arabia into sport and more active.
“I get goosebumps when I see a live sporting event and it’s something I have always wished my fellow countrywomen could get to experience,” Moharrak told Arab News, fittingly at the International Conference of Sports for Women (ICSW) in Abu Dhabi.  
 “I’m so happy that they will be able to taste the magic that is in the air when you see sport live for the first time. There is that vibe you get, that feeling — it touches you and it can often be what inspires you to be an athlete.
“The fact that girls could never previously go and watch sports meant they lost that connection, they lost that first moment of inspiration.”
Social media came alive in Saudi Arabia and beyond when the stadium ruling was announced, with female supporters looking excitedly ahead to the start of 2018 when they will finally be able to attend matches and events in Jeddah, Riyadh and Dammam.
The path toward sporting parity arguably began in 2012 when, after pressure from the International Olympic Committee, Saudi Arabia sent its first ever athletes to the Olympics.
Judo player Wojdan Shaherkani and 800m runner Sarah Attar competed in London with Attar’s appearance, in particular, capturing the imagination of the watching world. Despite finishing a distant last place in her heat, she received a standing ovation from everyone inside the Olympic Stadium.
 Attar returned four years later to take part in the marathon in Rio de Janeiro and though she finished 52 minutes behind Kenyan winner Jemima Sumgong she had again made Olympic history for her country, alongside 100m runner Kariman Abuljadayel and fencer Lubna Al-Omair.
 While these athletes unquestionably played a role in breaking down barriers, Moharrak has become one of the most recognizable pioneers for female empowerment in Saudi Arabia, and beyond.
Since taking on Everest the Jeddah-born climber has traveled the world to tell enraptured audiences her story, and believes every positive change should be cherished.
Interestingly her achievements, like the abolition of the stadium ban, can be traced back to Princess Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan.
Named the first female president of the Saudi Federation for Community Sports in October, Princess Reema has been a driving force behind the equality evolution, and Moharrak certainly feels a personal debt of gratitude to the royal.
“Princess Reema took me and nine other Saudi girls to Everest base camp and it was then that I knew I wanted to climb the mountain. Her passion and charisma inspired me. Appointing her to this important position in sport is a huge step in the right direction because we have one of us there. She is a doer and a woman of her word who genuinely loves sports. I know she is pushing hard for all of us.”
 Moharrak had to fight for her opportunities, defying her father to pursue a passion for climbing. Now he is her biggest fan and she believes that it is only a matter of time before other men also recognize that the playing field deserves to be leveled.
 “I was furious to be judged by my gender, my passport and my religion but getting over those obstacles made the success even sweeter. I am constantly inspired by every single girl who goes to the gym, who rides a bike, who picks up a ball, who swims.
 “Every female in the Arab world who was born in circumstances that did not make it easy for her to be athletic but who still embraced sport anyway — these people are my inspiration. Some of them have medals, some of them have nothing. But they have all shown tremendous bravery to go after the love of sport.”
 Thanks to Moharrak, Princess Reema and Saudi Arabia’s other female sporting trailblazers, there is now hope of a brighter future. They have scratched the glass ceiling; now a new generation has the opportunity to smash through it.


Juan Antonio Pizzi confident the real Saudi Arabia will turn up to face Uruguay in crunch World Cup clash

Updated 19 June 2018
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Juan Antonio Pizzi confident the real Saudi Arabia will turn up to face Uruguay in crunch World Cup clash

ROSTOV-ON-DON: Following a white-knuckle week of hand-wringing, Juan Antonio Pizzi and his Saudi Arabia team will on Wednesday return to the international spotlight keen to put the events of the past seven days behind them and demonstrate to the world an improved image of team. 
The Green Falcons were humiliated 5-0 by hosts Russia in the opening match of the World Cup last Thursday, prompting much criticism from their own football federation and the country’s General Sports Authority. Then, after leaving their base in Saint Petersburg for Rostov-on-Don where they will meet Uruguay in their second Group A match, a technical fault aboard their plane caused an engine to catch fire as it prepared to land. 
Pizzi, playing down the incident and insisting it has not affected their preparations, said expectations have had to be recalibrated after last week’s defeat. He made a point in stressing that the result is less important than the performance and insisted he trusts his players to demonstrate their true level against a Uruguay side boasting world-class players such as Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez. 
“We have an opportunity to try and turn around our results so far,” Pizzi said.
“Our performance against Russia was not what we expected nor wanted. Against Uruguay, we need to try to match the level of our opponents and try to win it. But we have other priorities that are more important than worrying about Suarez and Cavani. We have to show that we deserve to be here.
“As for the events (with the plane), we have had no further information. There was no panic; we were not afraid. We fully trust the pilot, staff and plane. The pictures point to something else, but we were very calm and it will not effect our performance.”
After the Russia match, Turki Al-Sheikh, the head of the General Sports Authority of Saudi Arabia, called it a “fiasco,” and criticized the players, but refused to blame Pizzi. Asked for his thoughts on Al-Sheikh’s comments, Pizzi preferred to focus on the next game.
“I really do not want to have an opinion on what people say,” he said. “We too are being very critical about our first match. I am the top person in charge here and want to change the perception people now have of this team. It is clear in my mind, these players have demonstrated to me that they can compete. We have played games against some very strong teams and in almost all of them we have shown a level of competitiveness.
“We have to demonstrate that we have the ability to compete, especially against a team that is combative. We have to compete with the same energy as them and that is what we will try to do.” 
Midfielder Taiser Al-Jassem reiterated his coach’s words, insisting that he and his teammates are focused solely on righting last week’s wrong. Everything that has gone before is forgotten.
“We were all very upset after the Russia game,” he said. “We are all determined to change this image because it is not the true image of Saudi football, Saudi players. We want to make our country proud. It’s the scoreboard that wins the day. We have encountered similar problems in the past but we need to forget this and focus on the next game. We are all very anxious to change this image.”
While Pizzi played a very attack-minded side in the opening game, it is widely accepted that Uruguay — ranked 14th in the world — could wreck havoc if given space in front of goal. With that in mind, he is expected to call upon Abdulmalek Al-Khaibri to sit in front of his four-man defense. Fahad Al-Muwallad may also be given a starting berth in place of Mohammed Al-Sahlawi, despite some players making it known they feel more comfortable playing behind the veteran striker. 
“Tactics, strategy, system, individual qualities … we have different priorities,” Pizzi concluded.
“Uruguay are a very difficult team with players who are world class. But I want to reiterate that it’s not about our players. I just want to see a competitive performance on the pitch. We want to show that we can be competitive and have the ability to compete at a World Cup. That is the priority.”