When Saudi Arabia raised its sporting game

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First female Saudi athletes, including Sarah Al-Attar, to the Olympics in 2012. (AFP)
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Saudi Arabia sent its first athletes to the Olympics in 1972. (AFP)
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In the 1970s, Saudi Arabia attracted foreign players to its teams, including Brazil’s Roberto Rivellino, who played for Riyadh’s Al-Hilal.
Updated 23 September 2019

When Saudi Arabia raised its sporting game

  • The 1970s were a golden era for Saudi athletes, paving the way for today's sporting heroes
  • Kingdom first participated in the Olympics in 1972, sending its first women in 2012

DUBAI: Many Saudis look back on the 1970s as a time of unprecedented development when sport, along with other aspects of life in the Kingdom, enjoyed rapid growth.

A government push to improve sports organization and boost participation in international competitions led to Saudi Arabia making its Olympic debut at the 1972 Munich Games. It marked the first time the Saudi flag was raised at the opening ceremony, although the Kingdom had been part of the International Olympic Committee since 1965. Saudi Arabia also participated in the first Arabian Gulf Cup in 1970,  and made its debut at the Pan Arab Games in 1976 and at the Asian Games two years later.

Also in the 1970s, the Kingdom attracted foreign players to its football teams, including Brazil’s Roberto Rivellino, who played for Riyadh’s Al-Hilal.

Mohammed Al-Kharashy, a former manager of the Saudi national football team, told Arab News that in the 1970s, “there was a lot of funding to improve sports facilities to the highest level. More focus was put on international participation in football and many other sports.”

Although sport was part of Saudi culture, its official development can be traced back to Interior Minister Prince Abdullah bin Faisal Al-Saud, who created the Department of Sport in the Interior in 1952.

OLYMPICS 1972

The first Saudis to represent the Kingdom at the Olympics

Men’s 100m Mansour Farhan Al-Gegd

Men’s 1,500m Naser Al-Safraa

Men’s 5,000m Abdallah Rouei Al-Mabrouk

Men’s 4 × 100m relay Mohammed Al-Dosary, Mansour Farhan Al-Gegd, Bilal Said, Saad Khalil Al-Dosary

Sporting development gained momentum with the introduction of the First Development Plan in 1970. A network of sports and athletics facilities was established along with recreational programs and sporting clubs for the Kingdom’s youth. These included federations for tennis, basketball, martial arts, handball, fencing, swimming, shooting and archery. The mandate of the General Presidency of Youth Welfare in 1974 was “to get as many people interested and involved in these activities as possible,” according to a statement published by the Saudi Embassy in the US.

While sporting standards in the Kingdom have improved dramatically, women’s participation is a more recent phenomenon. In 2003, the first women’s basketball team in Saudi Arabia was formed by Lina Al-Maeena. Three years later, she co-founded the Jeddah United Sporting Company, to encourage the development of female athletes; it now has a football club for women. In 2010, equestrian Dalma Rushdi Malhas became the first female athlete from Saudi Arabia to compete at the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in Singapore, winning a bronze medal.

Saudi Arabia sent its first women’s team to compete in the 2012 London Olympics. The team included Wojdan Shaherkani in judo and 800-meter runner Sarah Al-Attar. In 2016, Al-Attar, Lubna Al-Omair, Cariman Abu Al-Jadail and Wujud Fahmi represented Saudi Arabia at the Summer Games in Brazil.

In 2017, the Kingdom announced that public schools would begin offering physical education for girls as part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s reforms.


Two workers killed at Saudi Arabia's SASREF oil refinery

Updated 20 min 7 sec ago

Two workers killed at Saudi Arabia's SASREF oil refinery

  • Another two contractors were injured at the SASREF plant in Jubail in the incident on Sunday

RIYADH: Two contract workers have been killed at an oil refinery in Saudi Arabia.

Another two contractors were injured at the SASREF plant in Jubail in the incident on Sunday, the company said.

“SASREF immediately activated response teams to identify the source of the incident and responded to the situation,” the statement said.

“The safety of our people and operations is a top priority.”

The company, which is owned by Saudi Aramco, said additional safety measures would be put in place to prevent incidents in the future.

The 305,000 barrel per day SASREF refinery had until September been a joint venture between Aramco and Royal Dutch Shell.

Aramco bought it as part of a strategy to expand its downstream operations.