The inspiring story of Egypt and Liverpool superstar Mohamed Salah

The inspiring story of Egypt and Liverpool superstar Mohamed Salah
A visit to the Pharaohs and Liverpool star Mohamed Salah's home village reveals the inspiring story of a man with the footballing world at his feet. (REUTERS)
Updated 04 March 2018

The inspiring story of Egypt and Liverpool superstar Mohamed Salah

The inspiring story of Egypt and Liverpool superstar Mohamed Salah

BASYOUN, Egypt: In front of the Arab Contractors Club in Jabal Al-Asfar, east of Cairo, I embarked on a journey to Najrij, the hometown of Liverpool and Egypt star Mohamed Salah.
It is an arduous trip, one that the 25-year-old used to make every day, but one that reveals a lot about the drive and determination that have made Salah one of the best footballers in the world.

The journey started near the El-Mokawloon Club, where I boarded a minibus that took me to Ramses Square in the center of Cairo. It did not take long for the bus to become packed. Having broken free from Cairo’s notoriously crowded streets, we traveled 100 kilometers on bumpy roads to El-Maarad station in Tanta, a two-hour journey. Two hours, and another two taxi journeys later, I finally reached Salah’s hometown.
While neighboring villages had gates and signs displaying their names, Najrij had neither, and it was not until I asked the taxi driver that I was actually able to find my destination.
Najrij’s main street is a paved road that runs through alfalfa and wheat fields before reaching the village center. After walking for about 500 meters, I finally arrived at the street on which Salah and his family lived.
The four-hour journey from El-Mokawloon Club to his house was long and exhausting. But while I made the trip just once, it is a journey a young Salah took every day — back and forth — just so he could stay with his family and be with the people most important in his life.

There was nothing exceptional about Salah’s three-story house. Similar to others around it, its exterior façade was unpainted, except for the balconies. The iron gate was closed, as was the garage.
Salah’s neighbors are used to seeing the world’s press descend on their street in search of where the star grew up. These streets were the arena where he played with friends, learning and honing his exceptional talent, scoring thousands of goals, before gaining experience playing alongside the footballers of the local Amateur Youth Center.
The Egyptian football star’s instructions to his family members are strict: “Do not speak to the media at all.”
According to sources close to his family, Salah feared that they would be chased and annoyed by the press delving into their personal lives. This move was praised by some, who felt he was simply making sure his private life was respected, while others criticized him, saying that people had a right to know details of the Egyptian star’s life.
But due to the silence little is known about what makes Salah tick and the foundations of what is fast becoming an exceptional career.

Walking around Najrij’s narrow streets and alleys, you would not guess that this was where one of the world’s best players grew up. There was not a single picture of the country’s favorite son on display, either on his house or anywhere else.
But while his face his absent from Najrij, his sense of civic duty and kindness is clearly evident. Across the village it was easy to find projects created and funded by Salah. There was the Azhari Institute for Girls, being built at a cost of 8 million Egyptian pounds ($450,000), according to the village’s mayor, Maher Shatiya. Salah has also helped build an outlet to sell National Service Projects Organization products in the village, as well as a building for ambulance services.
Walking through the village, it was not long before I stumbled across a store for school supplies owned by Hajj Mohammed El-Bahnasi. The 60-year-old used the small shop as a temporary head office for the Salah Foundation, which he managed in cooperation with a board of trustees that included Salah’s father, uncle and brother.
El-Bahnasi, like the rest of Najrij, is used to being hosted by local and foreign media. After selling drawing pads to two young girls, he straightened his back and said in a calm tone: “I don’t know why the media is so concerned with the details of the foundation’s work. This is charity work and must be kept secret so that it gets rewarded by God.”
I asked him to speak about the foundation in general — as he wished.
“Captain Mohamed suggested starting this foundation after spending a few days in the village last Ramadan and noticing how people in need went and knocked on the door of his family’s house. He and his father responded to several requests they received, but he decided there and then it would be better to organize this work and ensure help reached those who deserved it.
“We have identified those in need in our village first because we are aware of their circumstances.”
Today, about 400 families in the village, including widows, orphans, and those who are ill, receive assistance. On top of that the foundation finances a few marriages and helps Syrian refugees in the Gharbia Governorate, where the village is located.
El-Bahnasi believes “Salah’s success with Liverpool is a result of his proximity to God and his humanitarian and moral commitment, as well as the prayers of millions of loyal Egyptians.”

El-Bahnasi’s son, Mahmoud, is a close friend of Salah’s; they speak regularly and discuss the Egyptian star’s performances in the Premier League and Champions League.
Of the new anthem sung by Liverpool fans, in which they chant: “If he’s good enough for you, he’s good enough for me. If he scores another few, then I’ll be Muslim, too,” El-Bahnasi said: “Every day after I perform Salat Al-Fajr, I surf social networking and news websites. One day and by coincidence, I read the news about the anthem the fans created for our son, Mohamed Salah, and I immediately broke into tears because Mohamed the Muslim still holds on to the morals of Najrij and everyone respects him and loves what he does — like prostrating in the pitch after scoring goals.
“Mohammed taught the Europeans that Islam encourages sincerity and diligence in everything we do. His success was not a coincidence because success requires hard work.”

Close to El-Bahnasi’s house is the home of Najrij’s mayor, Maher Shatiya. He was waiting for me on the balcony of his house, overlooking the street.
After Salah stopped his family speaking to the media, Shatiya, together with a few other villagers, took responsibility for speaking to journalists and answering their questions.
Sitting back and speaking in a tone that exuded both pride and enthusiasm, Shatiya said: “Mohamed was a very ordinary child — like all the other children in this village. He inherited his love for playing football from his father and uncles, who played with the village’s Amateur Youth Center’s team during the 1980s and 1990s.
“Salah’s father noticed his son’s talent and had him join the Ittihad Basyoun team when he was 12 years old.
“One day, Reda El-Mallah, a football scout, came to our village to watch another child named Sherif and possibly persuade him to join one of El-Mokawloon’s small teams in Tanta.
“He asked the children to play against Sherif so he could assess him. But watching the match there was one player who stood out — Mohamed Salah. So he asked him to play with El-Mokawloon in Tanta. From there Salah went on to play with the club’s youth team in Cairo, then for their first-team in the Premier League.
“It was then he began to make a name for himself across Egypt and it wasn’t long before European teams showed an interest.”
Salah’s first foray into European club football was with Swiss side Basel, where he moved in 2012. While at the Swiss giants he caught the eye of Chelsea and moved to Stamford Bridge two years later. Later success with Roma persuaded Liverpool to part with as much as £38 million ($52 million) and since his move to Anfield he has been setting the footballing world alight.

Shatiya told me a story about Salah’s wedding that illustrates his love and attachment to Najrij.
“Salah’s henna party (a party thrown on the day before the wedding day) was held here,” he said. “And even though his wedding was in Cairo, he spent his honeymoon in the village.”
He added: “Salah walks around the village like any other young man. He knocks on the neighbors’ doors to say hello to them during occasions.
“He also renewed the tradition of visiting families during Eid and visited me when he was in the village last Ramadan after I was injured in a car accident.”

Mohamed Salah greets a neighbor on one of his many trips home. (Asharq Al-Awsat)

As if to illustrate the love the village has for Salah and the awe he inspires in children, three cafes were opened in Najrij after Salah become famous, just to accommodate all the football-mad children who are always keen to watch all his games.
“Our greatest wish was to see Salah play in the Egyptian Premier League, but he exceeded all expectations and played with the world’s greatest clubs and became the best footballer in Africa.”

I left the mayor’s house and headed to the Azhari Institute for Girls, which is still under construction, with Hassan Bakr, a social researcher at the Salah Foundation. When we headed toward the village’s youth center, which was renamed “Mohamed Salah’s Youth Center,” I asked my companion what he liked most about Salah, and his response was: “His humbleness.”
The center has a football pitch, and the main building was decorated with a big sign featuring Salah’s name. We saw a few children practicing karate inside one of the halls.
I bid Bakr farewell and left, returning to Cairo by the same route — another trip that lasted four exhausting hours. But while making my way back to the capital, I remembered this was the exact journey the Egyptian star would take every day and, despite the hardship, it only made him more determined to succeed and achieve his dream.

Documentary highlights Saudi Greens’ tournament run in 2019

Documentary highlights Saudi Greens’ tournament run in 2019
Updated 03 March 2021

Documentary highlights Saudi Greens’ tournament run in 2019

Documentary highlights Saudi Greens’ tournament run in 2019
  • All-female team competed in New York City while also promoting environmental causes

RIYADH: The profile of women’s football in Saudi Arabia continues to rise.

The first Women’s Football League was established in the Kingdom last year and now a new film documenting the historic appearance of the Saudi Greens at the 2019 Global Goals World Cup (GGWCup) is being released by the Saudi Sports for All Federation (SFA).

Launched across the SFA website, its YouTube channel and social media accounts last week, the documentary chronicles the all-women Saudi football team’s journey at the GGWCup in New York City.

It was the first time a female sports team from the Kingdom had ever competed in the US, but the team’s involvement went beyond just a sporting achievement.

The tournament framed the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a sport, as 30 teams worldwide competed to create the kind of world they would like to see. Each team created an action plan with a particular global goal and strived to achieve it in their own country while also competing in five-a-side football tournaments.

Regional qualifying rounds determined which teams progressed to the finals in New York, where the winner was decided based on the impact of its activism and performance on the pitch.

In 2019, the Greens focused on SDG 15 “Life on Land,” bringing attention to the effects of single-use plastics on the environment. Prior to the tournament, team members hosted community events and campaigns across the Kingdom, helping to educate people on the impact of plastics and the wider SDGs in general.

The team distributed reusable bags, collected litter, held awareness talks, and collaborated with local schools and sports clubs to collect plastic bottles and teach children about the importance of recycling.

After they progressed through qualifiers in Copenhagen, the Greens joined 14 other teams at the 2019 finals, where they finished in second place. 

The documentary highlights the team’s experience in New York, but not just in footballing terms. The film also reflects on the team’s social development, international bridge-building and the Greens’ role in boosting female empowerment within Saudi Arabia.

The Greens were formed in 2018 with support from the SFA, the Saudi Ministry of Sports and the country’s Olympic Committee. Less than three year later, the team has come to symbolize progress and female empowerment in the Kingdom.

Since the tournament, the team has hosted virtual workout sessions for the GGWCup Clubhouse, contributed to SFA events and initiatives, and paved the way for the Women’s Football League, which was launched last February.

The latest role for the team will be as ambassadors for the upcoming GGWCup Saudi Arabia – the Kingdom’s first qualifying round of the global competition – due to take place this year.

Golf Saudi launches ‘Power of the Game’ podcast

Golf fans in Saudi Arabia can now get the inside track to the Kingdom’s plans for the game via Golf Saudi’s brand-new podcast – Power of the Game. (Supplied)
Golf fans in Saudi Arabia can now get the inside track to the Kingdom’s plans for the game via Golf Saudi’s brand-new podcast – Power of the Game. (Supplied)
Updated 02 March 2021

Golf Saudi launches ‘Power of the Game’ podcast

Golf fans in Saudi Arabia can now get the inside track to the Kingdom’s plans for the game via Golf Saudi’s brand-new podcast – Power of the Game. (Supplied)
  • The podcast series is hosted by Dubai Eye’s golf obsessive Robbie Greenfield

LONDON: Golf fans in Saudi Arabia can now get the inside track to the Kingdom’s plans for the game via Golf Saudi’s brand-new podcast – Power of the Game.

The series has been launched to explore the creation of new golf courses, efforts to bring new players into the game and shed light on Saudi Arabia’s golf sustainability mission, as it seeks to establish the world’s most integrated golfing ecosystem.  

The podcast series is hosted by Dubai Eye’s golf obsessive Robbie Greenfield, who will regularly invite guests to discuss their involvement in golf development in the Kingdom.

The first five episodes have been released on Tuesday as a “box-set” and include discussions with Ladies European Tour CEO, Alex Armas, 2018 Ryder Cup Captain Thomas Bjorn and an exclusive feature with Jack Nicklaus, who describes the designs for his new golf course at Qiddiya.

The podcast series underlines Golf Saudi’s ambition and its connectivity to the national Vision 2030 program and will emphasise Saudi Arabia’s role in establishing new global benchmarks across its six pillars: Access and Infrastructure, Events, National Team and Academies, Sustainability, Mass Participation and Tourism.

These will deliver key metrics in the next decade for the country, including having up to 27,000 registered golfers in the Kingdom and ensuring over one million Saudi nationals have actively tried golf. 

Commenting on the new podcast for the country, Majed Al Sorour, CEO of Golf Saudi and The Saudi Golf Federation, said: “At Golf Saudi, we have a number of over-arching aspirations for golf in the Kingdom and we wanted to give our new listeners the chance to hear more about these. We have laid out major plans for the socio-economic growth and development of the golf in the Kingdom, through tourism, commerce, investment and the entertainment sectors and are working with many amazing organisations and people to deliver these.  

“These are hugely exciting times and through the ‘Power of the Game’ podcast series we hope the stories of the work we are doing and the passion shown by these individuals shines through and gives our listeners a better view than ever of the scale of our ambition.” 

Listeners will be able to tune into each episode via major podcast providers: Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts and Stitcher.  

Life-altering operation keeps Olympic dream alive for Emirati surfer

Life-altering operation keeps Olympic dream alive for Emirati surfer
Updated 02 March 2021

Life-altering operation keeps Olympic dream alive for Emirati surfer

Life-altering operation keeps Olympic dream alive for Emirati surfer
  • Mohammad Hassan had his colon removed after years of discomfort. Now he has Tokyo in his sights
  • The operation to have the Stoma changed his life for the better and kept the dream alive, and now he is faced with option of having another operation which would do away with the bag

DUBAI: On his surfboard, waiting for the next wave.

Mohammad Hassan is never happier than when he is alone in the water.

The story of the Emirati’s attempt to be the only Arab surfer at the Tokyo Olympics would be inspiring at the best of times. But as it happens, Hassan also had to overcome a debilitating and life-threatening disease to follow his dream.

The baggage, in his case, is quite literal.

In August 2020, the 33-year-old had his colon removed, and the professional surfer now passes solid waste through a stoma in his abdomen that connects to a waterproof pouch called an ostomy bag.

“The first thing that came to my mind was, would I be able to live a normal life,” he said of his post-surgery state of mind.

“Would I be able to do my sports? All these things kicked in, and also looking at surgery itself, because I had to have a stoma, the first thing that came up was, would I be able to lay down on my board? Especially as I was trying to qualify for the Olympics.”

A naturally positive person, Hassan was nonetheless racked with concerns.

Will I be able to compete? Will I be able to do all the things I did before?

“Having the stoma was very difficult,” he said. “In my mind it was very difficult to lay down on my board, that was the main concern.”

Diagnosed with ulcerative colitis 15-years-ago meant that Hassan, a talented football and rugby player, could barely function in his everyday life, never mind in competitive sports.

Leaving the pitch every few minutes for bathroom break soon ended his team sports aspirations.

After moving to Australia, the Emirati increasingly found solace in surfing.

“Watersports were the perfect scenario,” he said. “I could sit in the water, enjoy my time.”

“[At first] I never knew what surfing was,” he said.

“So when I got injured playing rugby, through rehabilitation in the water I saw people surf and that’s how I got into it. I really enjoy the water. Water was my escape from everything. Every time I would go in the water, I’d feel at ease, I’d feel really good, I’d forget everything that happened during the day. And when I found sport I could do in the water, that was it, I clicked with it.”

He would carry his love of surfing with him to the US and eventually back home to the UAE.

“Sports come naturally to me, but I picked up surfing super well,” said Hassan, who was encouraged to pick the sport by his Australian friends.

“From the first time I caught the first wave, it felt good, it felt comfortable. I think I picked up really quick. I was born a surfer.”

But over the years medication could not improve Hassan’s illness, and he returned to the UAE two years ago.

During a routine follow-up for a patient with ulcerative colitis, a colonoscopy revealed pre-cancerous cells in Hassan’s colon. What was a daily inconvenience became life-threatening.

A team of surgeons and pathologists at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi advised a total colectomy – the removal of the colon.

Successful surgery meant saving his life by eliminating cancer, and effectively curing his colitis, eliminating his symptoms.

Hassan would have to carry the bag with him, but he had his life back.

That he was soon back on his surfboard and dreaming of Olympic glory is testament to his willpower as much as it is to the team of doctors.

“In the past we used to do surgeries like this the traditional way,” said Dr. Shafik Sidani, the colorectal surgeon who performed the surgery at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi.

“Which is open [surgery], big incision down the abdomen and basically the patients stay for many days if not weeks in the hospital. They don’t eat and drink for a while and when they recover, it’s slow recovery.”

Modern advances mean such operations are now carried out with small keyhole incisions, ensuring less pain and quicker recovery time for the patients.

A procedure called Enhanced Recovery After Surgery (ERAS) played a big role in Hassan’s return to a normal life.

“It’s basically a pathway in patient care that starts the moment the patient walks through the door with a diagnosis,” Sidani added.

“We prepare the patient for surgery physically, mentally and we set expectations, we educate the patient. We involve the patient in the care and the decision of the treatment.”

“Mo added another element to all this in that the stars aligned with him and with our pathway, with his motivations, his expectations and what he wanted out of this,” the doctor added.

“So he took it to another level, really pushed himself to recover quicker. He didn’t play the sick role for as long, he tried to move on.”

Now Hassan is taking the steps back into professional surfing and looking to emulate some of his heroes

“My favorites are ‘John John’ Florence and Julian Wilson,” he said.

“I really enjoyed the way they surf, I enjoyed their creativity on the water, and I really like their Air Game, so they were my go-to surfers. I surfed with John John so that was dream come true."

Pursuing the biggest dream of all, surfing in the Olympics, did not happen overnight. The World Cup of surfing came first.

“My coach Matt told me, ‘why don’t you compete for the UAE? I don’t think anyone has competed from the Gulf countries.’ Give it a go, I’m going to teach you, I’m going to help you out and we’ll see how it goes’. I agreed,” Hassan recalls of a conversation in 2018.

It worked.

Qualification to the World Surfing Games followed, where he was the only surfer form the Middle East.

Then came the World Qualification Series (WQS) for the World Surf League. A few wins got him “excited”.

And when surfing was announced as an Olympic sport for the Tokyo Games, his path was set.

The operation to have the Stoma changed his life for the better and kept the dream alive, and now he is faced with option of having another operation which would do away with the bag.

It’s a decision he is pondering as he is happy with the quality of life he is currently enjoying, as proven by his participation in the Dubai Fitness Challenge 2020, playing 30 different sports in 30 days.

The Final Olympic Surfing Qualifier in El Salvador at the end of May will determine his fate.

Hassan admits to being a bit rusty after the operation, and Covid-19 restrictions have not helped his training program.

But it will all be worth it if he makes it to Japan wearing his country’s colors.

And what would it mean to represent the UAE at the Olympics?

“Everything,” Hassan said. “The UAE has given me so much, and I think this is the time for me to pay it back.”

Sister act as Korda romps to Gainbridge LPGA win

Sister act as Korda romps to Gainbridge LPGA win
Updated 02 March 2021

Sister act as Korda romps to Gainbridge LPGA win

Sister act as Korda romps to Gainbridge LPGA win
  • Three birdies in her opening six holes gave her a healthy cushion at the top of the leaderboard, leaving her five shots clear at one stage

MIAMI: Nelly Korda produced a flawless final round to claim a three-shot victory at the Gainbridge LPGA tournament in Florida on Sunday.

Korda — whose elder sister Jessica won the LPGA Tour’s previous event, the season-opening Tournament of Champions in January — fired a three-under-par 69 to finish on 16 under.

The 22-year-old, whose father is former Czech tennis star Petr Korda, had opened up a one-shot lead on Saturday with a four-under-par 68.

On Sunday at Orlando’s Lake Nona Golf and Country Club, she picked up where she left off in the third round.

Three birdies in her opening six holes gave her a healthy cushion at the top of the leaderboard, leaving her five shots clear at one stage.

She then reeled off 12 consecutive pars to remain in control and close out the fourth LPGA Tour victory of her career with her parents and sister Jessica rushing to congratulate her on the 18th green.

“Honestly I did not play very good golf today,” Korda told a television interviewer moments after clinching her first career win on US soil.

“I just stayed really solid. I honestly don’t know how I did it. It was definitely very stressful.

“Winning in front of my parents was a first too, so that was really nice.”

Korda’s 72-hole aggregate 272 left her three clear of Lexi Thompson and Lydia Ko who finished tied for second on 13 under.

Thompson had closed to within three of Korda with a brilliant eagle three at the par-five 11th, but a bogey on the following hole stymied her chances of mounting a charge down the stretch. Thompson finished with a four-under-par 68.

New Zealand’s former world No. 1 Ko stormed up the leaderboard at the start of the back nine with four consecutive birdies starting on the 12th hole, eventually carding a three-under-par 69.

World number one Ko Jin-young meanwhile finished five off the lead in fourth place on 11 under. Ko posted a one-under-par-71 after an erratic final round that included four birdies and three bogeys.

There was disappointment for Thailand’s Patty Tavatanakit, who had started the day one off the lead.

The 21-year-old rookie faded with a two-over-par 74, with two bogeys and a double bogey on the front nine dropping her out of contention.

Tavatanakit finished on 10 under alongside Australia’s Sarah Kemp, who shot a three-under-par 69.

Meanwhile, LPGA great Annika Sorenstam, who parred her final hole on Friday to make the cut in her first tour start since 2008, closed with a four-over-par 76, propping up the leaderboard on 13 over.

How a group of Saudi female showjumpers took over the reins

The Equestrian Union was established in 2015 bu group of Saudi female riders with an aim to compete on equal footing with male counterparts. (The Equestrian Union)
The Equestrian Union was established in 2015 bu group of Saudi female riders with an aim to compete on equal footing with male counterparts. (The Equestrian Union)
Updated 01 March 2021

How a group of Saudi female showjumpers took over the reins

The Equestrian Union was established in 2015 bu group of Saudi female riders with an aim to compete on equal footing with male counterparts. (The Equestrian Union)
  • The Equestrian Union was formed in 2015 to allow women to compete on equal footing with men in the Kingdom

DUBAI: If it doesn’t exist, create it.

That seems to be the attitude of Saudi female athletes increasingly taking matters into their own hands. Women footballers and motor-racing drivers in the Kingdom have rightly been making the headlines recently.

But a group of six female showjumpers have been riding the wave of change even before societal reforms swept through the Kingdom and brought gender equality to the fore, as part of its Vision 2030 goals.

For years, the group of friends would attend showjumping competitions throughout the season as spectators. Until one day, while at an Equestrian Federation show in Jenadriya, they decided to establish an organization that would cater to their love of the sport, and allow them to compete on equal terms with male show jumpers.

They named it the Equestrian Union.

“Equestrian Union is an initiative that we started as Saudi female riders back in 2015, addressing the fact that there were no competitions that allowed female participation in Saudi Arabia at that time,” Mashael bint Mansour Binsultan, one of the founding showjumpers, told Arab News. She has been riding horses for the past 20 years.

“We had top imported horses, professional trainers, private stables and all the unconditional support of our families. We trained daily and took care of our horses; it was a lifestyle,” she added.

There was further positive change when in 2019, the Equestrian Federation opened up opens up participation for all female riders.

After that, progress has been rapid. In December 2019, 13 female Saudi equestrians made their home debut as part of the Diriyah Season, competing with their male counterparts for the first time ever in the Kingdom.

Binsultan, along with Sara Alruwaita, Ajwa Alsaud, Loulouah Bandar, Shuaa Alakeel and Sara Aljowie, had been honing their organisational skills long before that.

“We (had) started planning and managing events during the winter season since 2015, which shed light on showjumping competitions specifically but also included many other aspects such as cycling, hiking, archery, promoting local Saudi brands, food trucks, and horse trails,” Binsultan explained. “As a result, we gained experience in managing and organizing shows and events.”

Their first show took place in October 2015 and met all the standards of the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI).

“We want to continue promoting not only showjumping, but also social family-oriented sporting events and recreational activities, which is one of the main strategic goals of the Saudi Vision 2030,” Binsultan said. “Our families and friends were extremely supportive since the beginning. We were also fortunate enough to get added technical experience and support from local and international companies that sponsored some of the showjumping classes.”

Mansour AlMugatti, an international course designer and judge, continues to lend his support with the events to this day.

“We were very happy with the support and positive feedback we had from the Equestrian Federation which came from Prince Abdullah Bin Fahad, the president of the Equestrian Federation, honoring the winners in our last event,” she added.

Binsultan said, under the administration of the Minister of Sports Prince Abdulaziz Bin Turki, equestrian tournaments, in particular the Saudi Cup, are joining some of the highest profile events in the Kingdom — such as Formula E, the Clash on the Dunes heavyweight boxing bout, the Diriyah Tennis Cup and the Asian Games 2034.

Moreover, Saudi Arabia will host international four and five star showjumping events in Riyadh during the 2020-2021 season, and the Equestrian World Games 2024.

“I was immediately interested as, at the time, we did not have shows that allowed women to compete in Saudi Arabia and it was a fun way to spend the day with my friends, family and horses,” Bandar told Arab News. “I have always been into horses. I really don’t know why or how it started but both my parents rode as children and encouraged me when I expressed interest. I have a lot of family members who owned horses so I have always been around them.”

Bandar believes the Union provides a platform for equestrian lovers to practice their skills, without the pressures that comes with competing at a federation show.

“It’s a great place to come to if you are a beginner, someone with a new horse or even someone wanting to get in extra ‘schooling’ with your horse,” said the 26-year-old. “It’s also important because, a lot of the time, riders spend weekends at shows away from their family and friends, and with Equestrian Union, they can have a day out and enjoy it with their family members and loved ones.”

Alruwaita’s passion for horse-riding began at the age of 15 and alongside a friend, she went on to open “Tack Shack”, an equestrian goods store in Riyadh.

“I loved it,” she said, addressing the changes that have taken place in the Kingdom over the last decade. “Everything changed, the sport itself, the type of competitions and even the riders. Today, we have more competitions, the riders’ levels have improved, and there are more people involved.”

For Binsultan, the success of the Equestrian Union is down to the opportunities have presented themselves in the wake of societal and social change in the Kingdom.

“Everyone can see the reform that Saudi Arabia is going through with the leadership of (the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques) King Salman, and the ambitious vision of the Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman,” Binsultan said. “The vision touches on all aspects of life across all social and economic dimensions, with a strong focus on enhancing the quality of life with a specific focus on human well-being through the promotion of the sports sector. We wish all the best to our Kingdom and hope we can be a part of this optimistic vision.”