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.

Saudi Arabia celebrates 20th year of first Olympic medal win

Updated 28 September 2020

Saudi Arabia celebrates 20th year of first Olympic medal win

  • Hadi Souan scooped silver in Sydney at 29; athlete says success was for whole nation

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s first Olympic medal win 20 years ago inspired a generation of athletes and was a catalyst for the development of sport, according to the president of the Kingdom’s Olympic committee.

Hadi Souan won silver in the 400m hurdles at the Sydney Games in 2000.

The accomplishment was one of many in a long and successful journey for the athlete, who became a board member of the Saudi Arabian Athletics Federation (SAAF), the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee (SAOC) Assembly, a member of the Olympic Council of Asia Athlete Commission, sports and events manager at Qiddiya Investment Company, a member of the Saudi Sports Arbitration Center, and a member of the SAOC’s International Relations Committee.

“Today we celebrate Souan’s achievement, which inspired a generation of Saudi athletes and was a catalyst for the development of sport in the Kingdom,” said the SAOC’s president, Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal. “It gives me great pleasure to see sport thriving in Saudi Arabia. We are committed to ensuring that this trend continues and that the Kingdom’s next generation enjoys the benefits of participating in sport, both in Saudi Arabia and at major global sporting events.”

Souan started out as a footballer but took up athletics in PE class, winning second place in a school championship. He qualified to compete at the Kingdom level and went on to become a national team member in less than a year.

He started with the high jump, then decathlon and finally found himself taking on the 400m hurdles.

He trained under Egyptian coach Mohammed Thu Alfaqqar from 1991, under the Americans until 1994, and under 1968 Olympic gold medalist Lee Evans. But the best place Souan remembers training at was UCLA.

“It is a sport and artistic society indeed,” he said. “We spoke, ate, slept, and even relaxed for sport. These little things and the different sleeping habits here and there made me suffer a bit when I came back from the States, but we got used to it and I knew it made a difference in my lifestyle and mentality-wise.”

Souan also trained the European way in Paris under a Russian coach and France’s Amadou Dia Ba. “Hence I started to learn the difference between European and American schools,” he added. The US schools concentrated on endurance, while the French focused on speed.

He was grateful for the exposure to different cultures while training abroad with elite athletes, especially at a time when there was limited social awareness about the importance of sport.

“When I started training with US 400m hurdler Kevin Young, who clocked an Olympic record of 46.78 seconds at the 1992 Barcelona Games and which remains unbeaten until now, I felt that I could do what he is doing. I only need to be determined, disciplined, and committed and everything from there started to become imaginable. I started to see myself winning and when the time came and toward the end of the race I knew I was getting there but I wasn’t first. First place went to American Angelo Taylor who won in 47.50 seconds, while I did 47.53.”

He remembers the winning moment and never expected how the country would react to his achievement. It was overwhelming. 

He modestly said it was not his success alone, that it was a success for the whole nation and all of his team headed by the former SAAF president Prince Nawaf bin Mohammed, agent Emanuel Hudson, and coach John Smith. They all worked hard to create the right environment for him to deliver the medals.

“We were welcomed by the late King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, by the former president of General Presidency of Youth Welfare Prince Sultan bin Fahd, and everyone was happy and proud of what we did. I knew then that what I was fortunate to do was not simple at all and, luckily, was appreciated. I believe everyone started to look up for Saudis in athletics and watch out for similar future talents.”

The beauty of sport, he added, was its spirit and the values that were learned and developed through years of training, competing, winning and losing. 

“Although Taylor won first place we all, as a sports community, remain friends and also competed afterwards in several matches where he again took first place and I came second again. He came from a distance running race which allowed him to master his skills at the end of the 400m hurdles events, his approach was and still is just amazing.”

Souan won the silver medal aged 29 at his second Olympic appearance, in what he felt was perfect timing as he might not have been as successful at subsequent Games.

“Usually when you get to taste that level of achievement on a global scale you want more, but I knew that it was time to give back now and help my teammate and younger generations taste it at an early age.”

That’s how I got involved in the athletics federation and the Sports Ministry afterwards.”

He said that it did not matter how someone was built, as long as they had the willpower to work on their body and skills in order to become the best they could be in the sport that they liked. He added that parents had greater awareness, as did athletes, and wished that more Saudis could do what he could not.

Although Souan retired as an athlete at the age of 34, after competing in the 2006 Asian Games in Qatar, he was and still is a role model who keeps giving back to his country. Because of his passion for sports he was a physical education teacher and then supervisor at the Ministry of Education. 

“I always felt responsible to keep my record clean because I’ve seen how parents and students used to look up to me so, as an Olympian, I wanted to give a good example.”

In addition to the Olympic silver medal he won, with an Asian record of 47.53 seconds, Souan counts the 2001 Goodwill Games hurdles silver from Brisbane as his most prized possession. 

All told Souan has won 40 gold medals including one from the 2002 Asian Games in Busan, South Korea.