Princess Reema: Let's give young Saudis a sporting chance

Princess Reema bint Bandar said the new program set up between the General Sports Authority and Misk Foundation pledges to promote active lifestyles and to achieve excellence in sports. (Ziyad Alfaraj)
Updated 17 November 2018
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Princess Reema: Let's give young Saudis a sporting chance

  • Collaboration with Misk Foundation will develop Saudi Arabia’s future champions
  • General Sports Authority also working getting Saudis more active, starting in school

A new initiative between the General Sports Authority (GSA) and the Misk Foundation is setting up a program to promote sporting activities across the Kingdom and further the careers of future Saudi champions. Princess Reema bint Bandar, deputy of planning and development for the GSA, sat down with Arab News on the sidelines of the Misk Global Forum this week to speak about the new collaboration.

“We are honored to work with Misk for the future of our children,” said Princess Reema, president of the GSA’s Mass Participation Federation (MPF), after signing the deal with the Misk Foundation on Wednesday. While the details have yet to be worked out, she said it will involve athletic internships and scholarships to develop Saudi Arabia’s future champions.

The initiative is in keeping with Vision 2030’s Quality of Life program, which pledges to get Saudis moving by promoting active lifestyles and to achieve excellence in sports both regionally and globally.

“Part of our mandate is to grow the amateur to elite pathway,” the princess explained. “What that means is how can we have more young people active in the community sports groups and the grassroots activations to allow them to cultivate their skills. Hopefully they then will be scouted into the more professional sports pathway.”

The collaboration with Misk will enable that to happen. “With Misk, we are so proud to say that we’ve collaborated with their actual internship program and scholarship program to expand it to the avenue of sports,” Princess Reema said. “The exciting part about it is that many sports are vocational: They’re on-the-ground training. It is not something that you learn at school. It is the passion that you have, and then the correct team and the environment help you to cultivate it.”

The agreement will also cover scholarships for athletes. As Princess Reema explained: “What’s really critical for people to understand is that an athlete’s career does have an age limitation and sometimes a physical limitation, depending on injury. One of the mandates of the sports authority is to make sure that each of these young individuals has a second career.

The new initiative aims to get more Saudis, particularly the young, moving and active. (AFP)

“Education is critical. We obviously have partnerships with the Ministry of Education, but adding Misk to our portfolio truly is a gem. As an NGO they are able to execute faster and deliver faster than government bodies.”

The deal with Misk will enable a sports track for Saudi students studying abroad. “Misk has relationships with some of the best universities across the globe, and they have got seats in each of these universities for Saudi students, both male and female. Where we wanted to collaborate with them, and we are honored that they accepted, is to allow for a sports track.”

Princess Reema moderated a panel called the Future of Sport at the Misk Global Forum in Riyadh on Wednesday, a day that saw two other high-profile guests, Brazilian footballer Ronaldinho and British-Pakistani boxer Amir Khan, express interest in opening training academies in Saudi Arabia.

“This is the beauty of this world,” said Princess Reema. “Amir Khan is a boxer. He has specific skills set, but he’s willing to teach the next generation. So, our partnership with Misk, which we were discussing this last night, is how we can send young people in the Kingdom to where Amir Khan is and learn from him: not just the skills of boxing, but everything that goes around the ecosystem of boxing. And also for him to help us to find the correct coaches and trainers who will come and train young people here. That is the kind of example of what this relationship with Misk can do and what it can offer this nation.”

Amir Khan said last week he planned to set up a boxing gym in Saudi Arabia. (Getty)

There is a lot to be learned from high-caliber athletes, she said. “International athletes dedicate 100 percent of their time to their chosen sport. Today, while we don’t have the full ecosystem that can support them, we are developing it.”

Princess Reema also spoke of developments in the school system, particularly the introduction of physical education in girls’ schools this year, under a law passed in 2017. With an increased need for PE teachers, the GSA collaborated with the Ministry of Education on their training.

“The Ministry of Education has been proactive in the training of male and female PE teachers with new curriculums that they developed, and we were very honored to be a collaborative partner with them.”

The nature of that collaboration involves Olympic school days organized by the GSA, with 30 girls’ schools participating and a larger number expected in the future.

Princess Reema said the agreement will also cover scholarships for athletes. (Ziyad Alfaraj)

“As the sports authority and the Olympic committee we go in and do the training for the PE teachers, create the programming, and they come and compete inter-scholastically.”

Under Vision 2030, schools will see improvements in their facilities as well, Princess Reema said. “We have to remember that many of the schools are not equipped to have the kind of programs that the Minister of Education would like to implement. The plan is to invest in new facilities and new infrastructure. That’s going to change profoundly not only the quality of education, but also the PE that’s offered.”

As for the next Saudi female champion, Princess Reema said it’s a question everyone asks, and it deserves some patience. “A champion is not made overnight. A champion isn’t made in a year. A champion perseveres in their sport. A champion perseveres in the career of their sport.”

Her advice for young female athletes? “Whatever we can’t offer you, don’t stop and wait for someone to give it to you. The runner can run anywhere. The swimmer can swim. Focus on your sport and find your way. Call us for. help, because that is what we are here for. Even though the full structure may not be there yet, we are working in parallel with the athlete working on themselves.

“Your success is going to be a collaborative spirit, but you lead your success. We’re an enabler, but you have to lead it.”

The princess had a final word of advice for the parents of those budding athletes. “Pursue athletic activities with your children. You are the gateway to their success and you are the gateway to their exposure. Expose them to sports, expose them to physical activity, but also provide the holistic healthy lifestyle around them. The way they eat and sleep, and the way they engage with their community: You are in control of that. So allow them to have the correct foundation so when their dream truly becomes to be an athlete in sports, you have given them a foundation.”


Saudi Arabia joins nations in Katowice as talks adopt ‘Rulebook’ to curb climate change

The Katowice Climate Package is designed to put into operation the climate change regime contained in the Paris Agreement. (Shutterstock)
Updated 17 December 2018
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Saudi Arabia joins nations in Katowice as talks adopt ‘Rulebook’ to curb climate change

  • Saudi Arabia showed how seriously it is taking international efforts to mitigate the global rise in temperature

DUBAI: Between December 3 and 14, about 30,000 people from around the world converged on the Polish coal city of Katowice for the United Nations Climate Change Conference. COP24 (Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) took place close on the heels of a special report by a UN panel predicting the increasingly severe effects of a 1.5C rise in global temperatures over pre-industrial levels.

COP24 was the third such meeting since the adoption in 2015 of the Paris Agreement, which outlined a joint roadmap for developed and developing countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions starting from 2020. Naturally, the role of fossil fuels, greenhouse gas emissions and financial commitments in the battle against climate change were high on the Katowice agenda.

Governments have adopted a robust set of guidelines for implementing the 2015 Paris Agreement. The implementation of the agreement will benefit people from all walks of life, especially the most vulnerable. 

The Katowice Climate Package is designed to put into operation the climate change regime contained in the Paris Agreement. Under the auspices of the United Nations Climate Change Secretariat, it will promote international cooperation and encourage greater ambition. The Katowice agreement aims to deliver the Paris goals of limiting global temperature rises to well below 2C. 

Saudi Arabia was among the major participants from the Middle East, demonstrating the seriousness with which it is taking its own energy transition and international efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change. The ambitious targets the kingdom has set for itself are being seen as a message to other countries that also face a complicated transition.

“This year’s COP24 event was crucial in many ways, including its focus on people’s displacement because of extreme weather events and the impact on human lives,” said Dr. Taoufik Ksiksi, associate professor in biology at the United Arab Emirates University. “More people are now displaced as a result of climate-related extreme events than by wars and conflicts.”

Dr. Ksiksi says the need to limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5C-2C adds pressure on all the Paris Agreement signatories to act faster. “All countries that signed on, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, are working hard to (reduce) greenhouse gas emissions, among other things,” he told Arab News. “For countries like Saudi Arabia, it is critically important to get ahead of many other countries.”

Pointing to growing concern in the Middle East over the possible impact of climatic change and its excessive reliance on fossil fuels, Dr. Ksiksi said: “Some sectors, such as transportation, energy use efficiency and land use change, are more likely to be at the forefront of mitigation and adaptation schemes.”

The concept of COP came from the 1992 Rio Summit where the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was adopted, and aims to inspire countries to make good on their climate pledges. As for COP24, this is “an important year for testing the Paris model of gradually scaling up the ambition of targets through its five-year review cycle,” Emma Champion, EMEA policy analyst at BloombergNEF, told Arab News.

Champion sees the financing of energy transitions as a major issue in the battle against climate change. “Developed countries are behind on their commitment to sending $100 billion a year to developing countries to help them to achieve their individual targets, while developing countries are already facing budgetary pressure amid extreme weather events,” she said.

At the Katowice gathering there was a semantic disagreement over whether it should “welcome” or “note” the UN panel’s warning of dire consequences if global temperatures rise by more than 1.5C, with four oil-producing countries — the US, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Kuwait — expressing their preference for the term “note.”

By all accounts, Saudi Arabia is playing its part in the effort to achieve the Paris accord’s goals and targets. According to Raed Al-Schneiber, from the Saudi Energy Efficiency Center, despite being one of the world’s biggest energy producers the Kingdom is committed to becoming a highly energy-efficient country in order to preserve its resources for future generations. In this spirit, experts from Saudi Arabia gave presentations in Katowice highlighting home-grown innovations and advances.

Saudi Aramco’s Dr. Tidjani Niass said: “The Kingdom’s national petroleum and natural gas company is making commendable progress on a wide range of carbon-dioxide utilization technologies, among other fields. The company’s work in environmental stewardship has resulted in the world’s lowest-carbon crude.” 

Organizations such as KSA Climate Change gave presentations on the sidelines of COP24 highlighting efforts to tackle water and wastewater challenges, sustainable development and creating value from carbon dioxide. The subjects were energy-efficiency applications in the Gulf, research and development for climate solutions, and the use of oil and gas technologies to address climate change challenges.

According to Dario Traum, a senior associate at BloombergNEF, as one of the countries whose economy will need to go through the most radical transformation as a result of climate-change mitigation efforts Saudi Arabia’s role in the negotiations is central. “Saudi Arabia is one of the countries that has an economy that is predominantly reliant on oil revenue,” he told Arab News.

“We have seen in recent years the kind of shocks to government revenue and savings a fall in oil prices can have. The Saudi government has started to respond to that with reform and through investment in new sectors at home and abroad, although this clearly needs to be scaled up in the coming years.”

One topic that was high on the COP24 agenda was clean energy technology, the applications of which are growing in a widening field of activities — power projects, transportation, waste management, energy efficiency and storage, and sustainable urban development, to name just five. If the trend continues, opportunities for unlocking investment in clean energy technologies will multiply, say experts.

“COP24 has further clarified the scale of the opportunity,” said Bader Al-Lamki, executive director for clean energy at Masdar, a UAE-headquartered company focused on the development, commercialization and deployment of renewable energy and sustainable urban development.

“The low-carbon economy is the new growth story of the 21st century. And through the initiative of countries such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia, which is wholeheartedly embracing the potential for renewables to meet its domestic power demand, it is a growth story in which emerging markets are actively participating.”

The overwhelming dependence of the Arab Gulf region on desalinated water means solar-based desalination technologies have a major role to play in helping countries meet their emissions-reduction targets.

In this context, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) has come up with a host of initiatives, one of them termed “green desalination.” 

The need to meet the Paris Agreement targets is hardly the only worry for the Arab Gulf states, given the significant drop in rainfall received by the region in the last 20 years. “This drop will have an impact on natural vegetation, which is very much dependent on rainfall during specific seasons,” said Dr. Mohsen Sherif, director of the National Water Center in the UAE.

“It will also affect the phenomenon of natural groundwater recharge. If you have less rainfall, there will be less water filtering down to the aquifer system, which will reduce the amount of available groundwater. So there is a need to assess accurately the impact of climate change on the Arab Gulf region’s underground water resources.”