Qiddiya’s ambitious plans to transform sports landscape in Saudi Arabia

Qiddiya is a catalyst for a fitness transformation, allowing visitors to practice over 150 different sports, says Almamoun Alshingiti (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 18 April 2019

Qiddiya’s ambitious plans to transform sports landscape in Saudi Arabia

  • GSA is a key partner as the project looks to engage the whole country in sports and fitness initiatives

RIYADH: If you want to learn about sports in a country, you would look into the dynamics between government and private entities that shape the sports scene. In Saudi Arabia, in addition to the General Sports Authority (GSA), Qiddiya — one of the Kingdom’s Giga-projects — is another entity developing many sectors in line with the Vision 2030 reform plan, including sports. 

In an exclusive interview with Arab News, Almamoun Alshingiti, executive director of sports, explained the various Qiddiya-led initiatives that are working hand in hand with other governmental sectors to improve sports in Saudi Arabia, offering additional opportunities to citizens and residents.

At what stage is Qiddiya now with regards to offering sports facilities and opportunities to the community?

Qiddiya will open its doors to the public in the last quarter of 2022, with a wide array of sports and modern facilities. We are building facilities and programs that will cater to all participants, from people who want to take part in recreational sports, to developmental programs and elite athlete training facilities, along with all related infrastructure. Qiddiya is approaching sports development in Saudi Arabia with a strategic long-term vision by exploring ways to empower youth and aspiring talent to transform hobbies into elite athletic pursuits. Recognizing room for improvement in sports career tracks in the Kingdom, Qiddiya aims to deepen society’s understanding of, and appreciation for, fitness and wellness. As such, we are currently designing extracurricular, academic and sports development offerings that target all relevant age and stakeholder groups with the community’s needs in mind.

What makes Qiddiya different in what it offers from other sports stakeholders?

Qiddiya is a catalyst for national sports transformation, mandated to complement local stakeholders and promote various sports in over 20 facilities, allowing visitors to Qiddiya to practice more than 150 sports. What differentiates Qiddiya from others is the breadth of sports coupled with the development factor that seeks to promote physical activity, sports for recreation, events and competitions. Additionally, Qiddiya will take into account cultural and personal sensitivities while allowing women the space to explore their interest in a variety of sports, some of which were commercially unavailable to the public in previous years. 

How does Qiddiya cooperate with the GSA and other sports stakeholders in the country?

Qiddiya is keen to work with all stakeholders at different levels to ensure programs offered are in line with global best practices to benefit Saudi society. To date, Qiddiya has engaged with the GSA, the Olympic committee and sports federations in dialogue on how best to address market gaps and needs. Workshops have been designed to enhance discussion on best practices in sports training, scholarship development and elite sports development. The GSA and other stakeholders are key partners as Qiddiya examines how to engage the whole country in increased levels of participation in sports and fitness initiatives. Qiddiya also engages with other stakeholders like the Ministry of Education on larger programs to be launched soon. 

How does Qiddiya plan to create sports opportunities for people with special needs?

We are working on creating specific programs that cater to both athletes and hobbyists with special needs, and we will also ensure that we offer intensive programs that suit their tastes and requirements at all levels. Those with special needs will find a home at Qiddiya’s sporting facilities, which will be carefully designed to accommodate different levels of skill and physical ability.

What challenges does the Qiddiya sports project face?

Qiddiya hopes to be the glue that binds stakeholders together by offering the space, network and infrastructure needed to make all work as one. We will strive to streamline operations among all relevant stakeholders, and Qiddiya will capitalize on this to push forward initiatives that directly work to fulfil Vision 2030 directives, such as increasing the activity rate among Saudi citizens and residents, and placing the Kingdom among leaders in selected sports regionally and globally. Fostering cooperation among sports bodies at the national level is an objective in which all sports stakeholders are invested as part of Vision 2030, and Qiddiya aims to lead the charge.

How do you plan to reinforce the academic, entertainment and professional side of sports at Qiddiya?

Qiddiya will host all types of sporting events for spectators, and deliver events in which the public can participate as well. It is envisioned that Qiddiya will regularly attract sports enthusiasts and athletes — who currently have few other centralized spaces in which to watch or participate in sports — thereby making it the hub of sports excellence nationwide. For Saudi citizens seeking to explore a career in sports, we will offer numerous professional development programs that will train and prepare the next generation of practitioners to uphold this booming industry. Thousands of jobs will be created at Qiddiya for sports professionals and support staff. Constantly changing offerings will also ensure that the entertainment side of Qiddiya’s sports sphere will consistently engage the public to come back for more.

Will Qiddiya also showcase modern sports such as extreme sports and e-sports, or just traditional sports?

Qiddiya will offer a wide array of sports, including extreme sports, motorsports, air sports, Olympic sports and e-sports to provide all activities for customers’ interests. Blending traditional sports offerings with modern sports is what will make Qiddiya an incubator of sports development while sending a message that Qiddiya is for all practitioners, no matter their age, level or experience. Building the appropriate facilities to accommodate this wide variety of sports reflects Qiddiya’s commitment to acting as the Kingdom’s premier sports service provider, and Qiddiya will be on the cutting edge of highlighting the best that a healthy, vibrant sports ecosystem in Saudi Arabia has to offer, from extreme thrills to time-honored pursuits.

Iran assures FIFA that women can attend football qualifier

Updated 22 September 2019

Iran assures FIFA that women can attend football qualifier

  • FIFA traveled to Iran ahead of the weekend for talks on the matter of women and football
  • The Islamic republic has barred female spectators from football and other stadiums since 1981

MILAN: FIFA has been “assured” that Iran will lift its 40-year ban and allow women to attend a World Cup qualifying game next month.

Football’s governing body wants Iran to end its ban on women entering stadiums that breaches international football statutes prohibiting discrimination.

Global attention on the ban followed the death this month of a 29-year-old activist, Sahar Khodayari, who set herself on fire outside a courthouse. She had been detained for dressing as a man to enter a football stadium in Tehran and faced six months in prison.

“There is women’s football in Iran but we need Iranian women as well to be able to attend the men’s game,” FIFA President Gianni Infantino said in a speech at a conference on women’s football on Sunday. “And we need to push for that with respect but in a strong and forceful way. We cannot wait anymore.

“We have been assured, that as of the next international game of Iran, women will be allowed to enter football stadiums. This is something very important, it is 40 years that this has not happened, with a couple of exceptions, but it is important to move to the next level and to the next stage.”

FIFA sent an inspection team to Iran this week to meet government and football officials ahead of Iran’s match against Cambodia at the 78,000-capacity Azadi Stadium on Oct. 10 — its first home match of the 2022 qualifying competition.

Infantino’s comments drew praise from United States outgoing coach Jill Ellis, who was at the same FIFA conference in Milan, two months after leading the American women’s team to a second successive World Cup title.

“I think it’s huge,” Ellis said. “FIFA has enough of a pull and ability to influence change and I think it’s absolutely the right thing. I mean I don’t think there should be any discrimination period and to not allow women to go see football I think is, I just can’t even wrap my brain around it in terms of it being something. I think if FIFA can influence that, I think it’s great.”