Princess Reema: It’s time to focus on Saudi women’s capabilities, not their clothes

In this file photo, Princess Reema bint Bandar Al-Saud speaks at the Atlantic Council in Washington,DC. (AFP)
Updated 10 March 2018

Princess Reema: It’s time to focus on Saudi women’s capabilities, not their clothes

LONDON: Saudi Arabia is counting on the power of sport to help drive its nation to economic victory, according to Princess Reema bint Bandar.
“I am building an entire sports ecosystem: From the athletes, to the female ushers, and security guards, we’re going from the micro to the macro to the triple macro. Every sector in the country requires a down chain,” the princess told the Chatham House think-tank in London. 
“Sport impacts every industry sector across the board and it will draw in crowds globally.”
Since last October, the Princess has headed the Saudi Federation for Community Sports (SFCS) and is the vice president for Development and Planning at the Saudi Arabian General Sports Authority. Princess Reema is the first woman in Saudi Arabia to head such a federation. As chief of SFCS she has the task of developing a sports ecosystem in the Kingdom, largely from scratch. 
She said: “From the staff who clean the machines, to the trainers, to the doctors, to the athletes, everything to do with sports must be included in the future planning of the country — that’s my job.”
This year has already seen significant sports advances in the Kingdom as restrictions on women watching and playing sport have been lifted. Females can now attend football matches, pump iron in gyms, partake in sports themselves, and girls can take physical education classes in school.
Since Princess Reema took up her role, she has played a part in helping to mobilize women’s sport. “I’ve encouraged women to go out on the streets and into the public parks to exercise. I’ve been telling women they don’t need permission to exercise in public, they don’t need permission to activate their own sports programs. And more and more they are doing it.”
Some National Transformation Program (NTP) 2020 initiatives under Princess Reema’s extensive remit are: The promotion of sports and physical activities; improved return on investment in sports clubs and facilities; and enabling Saudi elite athletes to achieve high performance on a sustainable basis in different sports.
As well as targeting significantly improved performance at international sporting games, there is a heavy emphasis in the NTP initiatives on improving sports infrastructure and grassroots facilities through the addition of women’s sports facilities, and through local communities, where previously investment has been very limited generally.
Princess Reema said: “The choices that women have today are greater than yesterday and every day they will grow more.” 
She said she is working on licensing women’s gyms throughout the Kingdom. “The gyms have always been there but they were grey market and unregulated. We’ve created the formal structure for the licensing of women gyms and by putting them into the light we can regulate them,” she said.
The princess said the Kingdom now has 47 live gyms and she is targeting the licensing of 500 medium-sized gyms by June. She estimates that each gym will directly employ around eight people. “That’s already 4,000 jobs for women,” she said. “Then when you add the indirect jobs, such as trainers, the number goes up further.”
Wes Schwalje, COO of research firm Tahseen Consulting, agrees that the cultivation of Saudi Arabia’s sports will help boost jobs and grow the Kingdom’s economy. “Saudi Arabia has budgeted almost $600 million to build the foundations for a sports ecosystem by 2030. While this figure does not include infrastructure spending and just covers the next two years, it gives a sense of the magnitude of spending that is planned for sport,” he said.
“It is likely that $3 billion to $5 billion will be spent on developing a sports ecosystem by 2030. The sport will have a significant, positive impact on the Kingdom’s economy through its contribution to growth and jobs,” Schwalje added.
The COO said in the EU, for example, the sports sector (narrowly defined) makes up 1.13 percent of gross value add and 1.5 percent of employment on average. “If Saudi Arabia were to achieve a similar share of sport-related value add, that could mean an incremental $7 billion per year added to the gross domestic product and approximately 100,000 jobs,” he said. 
Schwalje said several other sport-related industries will also benefit from the growth of sports in the Kingdom, as part of a “multiplier effect.” 
“We would expect to see sizeable indirect impact in the food and hospitality sectors, construction, and media sectors,” he added.


Give your heart to everything you do, Duchess of York tells Misk Global Forum

Updated 28 min 38 sec ago

Give your heart to everything you do, Duchess of York tells Misk Global Forum

  • Sarah Ferguson delighted by warm welcome in Riyadh during Misk Global Forum
  • Ferguson shared her experiences of working to help children worldwide during a panel discussion at the Misk Global Forum

RIYADH: Sarah Ferguson, Britain’s Duchess of York, said that she was moved by the warm welcome she has received from the people of Saudi Arabia. She added that it was a reflection of the good example set by the country’s rulers.

Fergie, as she is known worldwide, said she was excited and thrilled to visit the Kingdom to appear at the Misk Global Forum in Riyadh.

“I love the feeling of kindness that I’m getting from the people of Saudi Arabia,” she told Arab News on Wednesday which, appropriately, was International Kindness Day. “Everyone has been so nice here in Riyadh; I think that comes from good leadership.”

She compared this wonderful reception to her experiences in other places “where people are judgmental of you,” adding: “I don’t feel that here. I feel people are embracing me as ‘Sarah’ and that is such a beautiful feeling.”

The duchess said that she hoped to return to Saudi Arabia to help the government build health centers in less-developed areas. But she admitted that it can be tough sometimes to keep going.

“We are all human and have human failings, so the best we can do is keep battling on,” she said. “It’s hard not to beat yourself up sometimes, if you’re feeling down or upset.”

Ferguson revealed that her inspiration is her daughters, Beatrice and Eugenie, and that she has always tried her best to be a “great mum,” urging them to “learn from my actions rather than my words.”

She added: “If your actions are of honesty and kindness and you unintentionally trip up on the way” people are likely to see you are good-hearted.

The duchess was open about her own bad decisions which, she said, happened because she believed everyone thought the way she did.

“They didn’t, and I didn’t realize that,” she said. Despite past betrayals, she said still trusts and believes in people, and has passed on the lessons she learned the hard way to her children: “I have taught my daughters not to fall into those traps.”

In the past, she said, some people in Britain might have viewed her philanthropic work as “attention seeking,” but did not let that divert her from a path of kindness and a desire to do good.

The duchess later hosted a showcase of her retail brand, which includes room infusers, flavored teas, and jewelry. She said all profits from the jewelry sales will be used to help children through a trust she founded in partnership with the charity Humanitas.

Ferguson was invited to attend the Misk forum by Badr Al-Asakir, head of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s private office. The prince is chairman of the Misk Initiative Center.

During a panel discussion on Tuesday titled “The Resilient Philanthropreneur,” the duchess shared her experiences of working to help children worldwide, and the resilience and persistence it had required.

“Don’t let anyone doubt you and, especially, don’t doubt yourself,” she said, encouraging people to keep an “open mind” and pursue the path they believe is right.

“Give your heart to everything you do,” was her parting advice to young people.