RIYADH: Community sports for female athletes in Saudi Arabia took another giant step forward after The Saudi Sports for All Federation (SFA) on Monday inaugurated the official Women’s Football League (WFL) at a launch event in Riyadh.
It is the latest initiative led by Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal Al-Saud, president of Saudi Sports for All Federation (SFA), aimed at promoting grass roots sports activities for budding female, as well as male, athletes across the Kingdom.
“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 programme.”
Under the SFA initiative umbrella and fully funded by the Federation, the WFL is a nationwide community level league for women aged 17 and above that will in its first season take place in Riyadh, Jeddah, and Dammam, with more cities potentially joining in due course.
With a prize of SR500,000 ($133,200) at stake, the WFL will consist of preliminary rounds taking place across the three cities to establish regional champions. The winners then progress to a knockout competition, the WFL Champions Cup, to determine the national champion of Saudi Arabia with the date of the final to be announced later in the season.
“With the boundless support of His Majesty King Salman, HRH Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Chairman of the General Sports Authority, HRH Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, the commencement of the Saudi Women’s Football League 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 grass roots level has come from closer to home, Prince Khaled told Arab News.
“I think a big inspiration for young Saudi women to get involved in community level football is the Saudi Greens Team,” he said, referencing an 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. The tournament, staged alongside the 2019 United Nations General Assembly, was something the Greens Team worked toward by initially competing and ranking in Copenhagen. That round then qualified the Saudi Greens for the New York finals. The Sports for All Federation sponsored the team, and I think if anything is motivating young Saudi women to go for community football, its seeing Saudi girls get out there and represent the country.”
In the long term, Prince Khaled also sees the WFL is a pivotal initiative of the Saudi Sports for All Federation and and major driver behind the realisation of Vision 2030 for a healthier and more active society.
SFA Managing Director Ms. Shaima Saleh Alhusseini believes the WFL launch will significantly improve the visibility of women in sports as well as prioritise their fitness, health, and wellness.
“Empowering women comes through positive and proactive programmes like the WFL that have been conceptualised to continue to have 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 realise this aim together.”
Ms. Alhusseini said that this was a qualitative shift in women’s sports in the Kingdom, and that the WFL will also contribute numerous technical and administrative gains as well as increase experiences.
“Spearheaded by SFA Director of Sports Development Ms. Sara Aljawini, the SFA team members who structured the WFL studied all aspects of the new League, conducting continuous workshops to ensure the wider WFL infrastructure and lasting impact metrics,” she added.
The SFA has ensured that the football pitches are ready for the start of the WFL in March 2020, with all-female organisational and technical teams in place to manage the various committees working towards delivering the League. The WFL infrastructure teams will address and complete administrative requirements, refereeing, and technical and medical issues.
A significant boon of the overall WFL programme is that 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 far-reaching program’s potential and maintenance.
At a later stage, SFA and WFL will be communicating details on additional leagues and football events and festivals targeting girls aged 16 and below. These competitions, under the banner of “Beyond Football”, will focus on building a strong base for future participation at community level, beginning with girls aged five.