‘My greatest honor,’ says Saudi rower with his sights set on gold

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Husein Alireza, center, says the Kingdom’s extensive coastline and suitable weather yearround make it an ideal location for the sport, which requires intensive training. (Photo/Supplied)
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Husein Alireza, says the Kingdom’s extensive coastline and suitable weather yearround make it an ideal location for the sport, which requires intensive training. (Photo/Supplied)
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Updated 12 February 2020

‘My greatest honor,’ says Saudi rower with his sights set on gold

  • Medal-winning Husein Alireza flies flag for Kingdom amid plans for Olympic glory

JEDDAH: Early morning training, a strict dietary regimen and long hours in the gym make rowing one of the most demanding sports in the world.

But for Saudi rower Husein Alireza, the satisfaction of seeing the Kingdom’s flag over the medals podium makes the intense effort worthwhile.

After months spent pushing himself to the limit, Alireza burst on to the international scene with a third-place finish at the 2019 Asian indoor titles in Bangkok, a medal-winning result that also put Saudi rowing on the world map.

“I was so proud to carry the Saudi flag that day and it’s a feeling that I want to experience many times again in the future,” he told Arab News while visiting Riyadh for an awards ceremony honoring international medal-winning athletes from the Kingdom.

“There is no greater honor for an athlete than to represent his country and no better feeling than to raise his country’s flag over the medals podium.”

Not content with charting his own competitive rowing career, the Saudi rower is also working to develop the sport in the Kingdom.

“Work is already underway to develop a training and competition facility in Jeddah and Riyadh. We want to have rowing as a sport in the upcoming inaugural Saudi Games multi-sport competition, and also to host inaugural outdoor and indoor national rowing championships this year,” he said.

“I look forward to this dream becoming a reality. This would be a turning point in the growth of rowing as a major sport not only in Saudi Arabia but also in the region.”

The Kingdom’s extensive coastline and suitable weather year-round make it an ideal location for the sport, he added.

Alireza began rowing competitively while studying for a master’s degree at Cambridge University.


Husein Alireza’s achievements include gold in Molesey Regatta in London, a first in the B final of the 2019 Asian Rowing Championships in South Korea, and a finalist spot in the 2019 Asia Cup in Thailand.

“Rowing was a great way to meet people and take my mind off studies. The strict training taught me the importance of self-discipline and teamwork to achieve goals. The head coach was impressed by how quickly I improved and encouraged me to take the sport up professionally,” he said.

Alireza is now based in London, which he describes as “the rowing capital of the world.”

“It’s important I put myself in a competitive environment to make the most of my time training,” he said.

“I’m working diligently to reach my potential as a rower, and make my family and country proud. I feel I have already made a mark in the sport by being the first Saudi to win a medal in a major rowing competition.

“I would like to leave a proud legacy for Saudi rowers and remain involved in the development and growth of the sport in the Kingdom,” he said.

“At this point I’m proud to say that Saudi Arabia can be recognized as being competitive in the sport.”

Along with the bronze medal at the 2019 Asian indoor titles, Alireza’s achievements include gold in Molesey Regatta in London, a first in the B final of the 2019 Asian Rowing Championships in South Korea, and a finalist spot in the 2019 Asia Cup in Thailand.

“My performance at each competition I’ve entered shows improvement, which is the most important thing,” he said.

“The bronze medal at the 2019 Asian indoor titles was a well-deserved reward for me as I pushed myself to my physical limit to be ready for that race. So, all in all, I am happy with my competitive position now.”

Alireza said that his coach, Olympic silver medallist Bill Barry, has been “nothing short of inspiring” and is driving his training success and growth as a rower.

Like all international athletes, Alireza’s ultimate aim is to compete in the Olympics.

“I think every child dreams of becoming an Olympian whatever their sport. Olympic medals represent a world standard in achievement. Just being able to participate is a validation of the athlete’s achievement. So reaching the Olympic Games is a natural ambition,” he said.

The Saudi rower has a word of advice for young athletes looking to become rowers: “Be sure you are passionate about the sport and are willing to go to great lengths to excel. We have limited training opportunities now for rowing in the Kingdom, but interest is growing.”

Alireza praised the efforts of the Saudi Rowing Federation to support his career, and said female athletes have a major role to play in rowing’s future in the Kingdom.

“Women’s participation in sport is vital to our growth as a nation. We have had women participants in the Saudi Rowing Federation from the first day, and we are proud of the diversity of our team,” he said. “I expect Saudi women will become a driving force in the growth of sports.”

Asked if Saudi Arabia will ever host an international rowing competition, Alireza reveals his medal-winning mentality with a one-word answer: “Yes.”

Saudi Women’s Football League launched

Updated 24 February 2020

Saudi Women’s Football League launched

  • The first season of the WFL, a nationwide initiative, will be held in Riyadh, Jeddah, and Dammam
  • League inaugurated by president of Saudi Sports for All Federation

RIYADH/DUBAI: Community sports for female athletes in the Kingdom took another giant step forward after the Saudi Sports for All Federation (SFA) inaugurated on Monday the Women’s Football League (WFL) at a launch event in Riyadh. 

It is the latest initiative led by SFA President Prince Khaled bin Al-Waleed bin Talal to promote grassroots sports activities for budding female and male athletes across Saudi Arabia.

SFA President Prince Khaled bin Al-Waleed bin Talal (L) (AN Photo/Bashir Saleh)

“The development of the WFL came about because we understood there was a need for community-level football for women,” Prince Khaled told Arab News.

“This community league is the first activation of many different community-level sports for women, and it will serve as a great model in terms of league infrastructure and inclusion metrics, contributing to Saudi Vision 2030 and the Quality of Life program.”

Fully funded by the SFA, the WFL is a nationwide community-level league for women aged 17 and above.

In its first season, it will take place in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam, with more cities potentially joining in due course. 

With a prize of SR500,000 ($133,285) at stake, the WFL will consist of preliminary rounds taking place across the three cities to establish regional champions.

The winners progress to a knockout competition, the WFL Champions Cup, to determine the national champion, with the date of the final to be announced later in the season. 

Prince Khaled thanked King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, chairman of the General Sports Authority, for their “boundless support.”



The WFL “is one more major leap forward for the future of our country, our health, our youth, and our ambitions to see every athlete be recognized and nurtured to their fullest capability,” said Prince Khaled. 

Women’s football is one of the world’s fastest-growing sports, and the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup raised its profile to unprecedented levels, inspiring greater participation across the globe.

Inspiration for female footballers at the grassroots level has come from closer to home, Prince Khaled said.

“I think a big inspiration for young Saudi women to get involved in community-level football is the Saudi Greens Team,” he said, referring to the all-female team established by the SFA.

“The Saudi Greens placed second in the Global Goals World Cup last year, and this was a huge moment for young female athletes in the Kingdom.”

Prince Khaled sees the WFL as a pivotal initiative of the SFA and a major driver behind the realization of the Vision 2030 reform plan, which strives for a healthier and more active society.

SFA Managing Director Shaima Saleh Al-Husseini believes that the WFL will significantly improve the visibility of women in sports and prioritize their fitness, health and wellness.

Some of the women at the launch event. (AN Photo/Bashir Saleh)

“Empowering women comes through positive and proactive programs like the WFL that have been conceptualized to continue to have a lasting impact on health, fitness and wellbeing,” she said.

“The SFA, committed to putting women at the forefront of our mission to grow Saudi Arabia’s healthy and active community, continues to engage public and private sector stakeholders to realize this aim together.”

She said this is a qualitative shift in women’s sports in the Kingdom. Spearheaded by Sara Al-Jawini, the SFA’s director of sports development, the federation “studied all aspects of the new league, conducting continuous workshops to ensure the wider WFL infrastructure and lasting impact metrics,” Al-Husseini added. 

Some of the women at the launch event. (AN Photo/Bashir Saleh)

The SFA has ensured that the football pitches are ready for the start of the WFL in March, with all-female organizational and technical teams in place to manage the various committees working toward delivering the league.

The WFL infrastructure teams will address and complete administrative requirements, refereeing, and technical and medical issues. 

Coaching and refereeing courses are planned to further develop the country’s infrastructure for women in sports.

The SFA’s investment in the WFL includes both women’s coaching and women’s refereeing training to fully flesh out the program’s potential and maintenance. 

At a later stage, the SFA and WFL will be communicating details on additional leagues and football events, as well as festivals targeting girls aged 16 and below.

These competitions, under the banner “Beyond Football,” will focus on building a strong base for future participation at the community level, beginning with girls aged 5.