RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s General Sports Authority (GSA) has a venerable heritage dating back to 1974 — and it has come a long way since then.
In the past, the sports authority was heavily focused on Saudi football, but recently that has taken a swift turn and more activities have been added.
“We have two mandates in the 2030 vision. One is to increase participation in sport and the other is to achieve excellence within the sports we choose, and they both have to work parallel to each other. You can’t get one without the other,” said Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, chairman of the GSA’s board of directors.
“By that, we mean we are empowering federations to do more competitions and activities and to promote different kinds of sport in the Kingdom.
“I know in the past there was a focus on football but now by hosting these events we are actually showing the youth that there are other sports and how to learn from it and grow,” the prince added.
He said that one of the most remarkable changes he had seen in Saudi Arabia was the awareness that came with sports. “It’s the awareness of the community, of the people. They are aware of how important sport is, as well as being active.”
The Kingdom had a high level of obesity and type 2 diabetes which were often directly linked to a lack of exercise, but more people being active and participating in sport would help drive those figures down, Prince Abdul Aziz said.
In 2015, only 13 percent of Saudis took part in half-an-hour of sport, but the GSA aims to significantly increase that figure over the coming years.
Prince Abdul Aziz said there was “a big appetite toward that change. We are changing the country.”
But there were still gaps to be filled. “The gaps are the know-how, the experience, and train the trainer programs,” he added.
By hosting events the GSA aimed to raise awareness about the country’s sporting ambitions and the opportunities for individuals to take part in achieving the goals.
From a financial perspective, the sports sector contributed about 0.1 percent to GDP. The target was to make that 0.8 percent by 2030, said the prince. “That means that we are going to have 16 million people weekly active on a constant basis.”
The future of sport in the Kingdom involved “more infrastructure, more venues, more programs and more training,” he added.