JEDDAH: The Saudi Athletes Commission, under the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee (SAOC), on Sunday concluded its two-day Saudi International Athlete Forum.
The virtual forum, held under the patronage of Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, president of SAOC, attracted more than 10,000 viewers, among them sports specialists and athletes from the Arab and Asian region who attended to learn about athletes’ welfare from specialists in the field.
The first session, on “Life After Sports,” touched on a crucial issue many athletes face after retirement.
Former football goalkeeper Dr. Turki Alawwad said: “You need to have lenience and flexibility toward your future and the opportunities you may take to enhance your income. You lived as an athlete for 35 years as an average but then you have another 35 to spend, why not spend it by doing something useful and beneficial?”
Majed Abdullah, the former footballer and president of the Friends of Retired Footballers Society, said: “At the society we do a lot of workshops to help athletes find a way to invest in good business or do something useful, but not many show up. I wish every sport would run a similar society to help their retired athletes and help the game itself. HRH Prince Abdul Aziz and the Ministry of Housing have been great supporters to us.”
The following session, “Athletes Entourage,” included Ali Alzahrani, Saudi karate coach; Arwa Mutabagani, former equestrian rider and member of the Saudi Equestrian federation and mother of an Olympic champion equestrian; and Nasser Aldaghaither, former president of the Saudi Water Polo Federation and father of a water polo athlete.
Mutabagani discussed the different roles she plays as a mother and professional in the sport. “I play more than a role as a rider and as a team director,” she said. “But it’s not useful for the athletes to mix between them, so when she trains I have to be the team director only to ensure everyone does his job and follows the plan.”
Alzahrani said that families must know about children’s training plans in advance for parents to arrange their commitments with enough time. Aldaghaither, however, explained that it was also important to expose the athlete at an early age to the feelings of winning and losing and to communicate with them in a way that motivated them to do better.
The following session introduced Olivier Niamkey, head of the Athletes Section of Olympic Solidarity at the IOC, who highlighted the opportunities for athletes on the Olympic Solidarity programs, including eight dedicated to athletes.
“We have a budget of $509 million for four years, which is currently from 2017 to 2020, to distribute among all 206 NOCs, in addition to the Olympic Council of Asia activities and hosting the Olympics,” he said.
“We have programs dedicated to athletes in addition to many others for coaches and administrators. Each NOC needs to address us regarding the program they are interested in and we can review their request and approve it. It’s up to the NOC to be active and make an application and an implementation plan to succeed.”
The fourth session included Kady Kanoute, former basketballer and chair of the WADA Education Committee, former Côte d’Ivoire hurdler, Marcellin Dally, and Saudi Arabian Antidoping Committee Chairman Dr. Mohammed-Saleh Alkonbaz.
Kanoute said: “The role of education is a key changer because you can have an impact on the decision-making of athletes so we try to tailor it to the role of their entourage and those who support the athletes as well. This, of course, should be addressed with targeted programs to offer the right positive programs.”
“If the athletes want to be the best they can, they need to be the best in all angles. That’s why they need to have an anti-doping environment with the inclusion of integrity, sport values and ethics through open debates with athletes so issues related can be open for discussion and awareness,” Dally said.
Dr. Alkonbaz said: “Doping includes health issue problems, legal problems and ethical and integrity problems. Those three things involve many people being trained to help. In our experience, from 2010-2013 we tested less than 500, 6 percent were positive, the percentage in 2017-18 became less than 1 percent although the number doubled to 1,000 cases. This showed the increased awareness among athletes because of the educational workshops we held among athletes.”
“But you have to see also who is related to the athletes because they have a direct influence on his decision whether to take (up) doping or not,” he said.
The last session highlighted the importance of sport psychology for the mental health of athletes with the participation of sport psychologist, Dr. Mohammed Alsulaiman, Dr. Mohammed Fagehi, vice president at the Sports Medicine Federation, and water polo player, Bader Aldaghether.
Alsulaiman said: “As an athlete, it’s very hard to deal with stress. That’s why they need a specialist, especially in difficult times; for example, a young athlete at a new huge major sporting event. That’s why we need to prepare him in advance to go through this. Individual sports are easier to deal with than team games because of the numbers. Focusing on individual sports can also deliver better results and more medals.”
The importance of preparing mentally is as important as being prepared physically; they are both intertwined,” Aldaghether said.
Dr. Fagehi said: “We need to have realistic goals as to what we expect from athletes; most athletes are harsh on themselves and tend to think negatively. Confidence is key in securing success.”
The closing session included Vice President of SAOC Prince Fahad bin Jalawi Al Saud, who thanked the Saudi Athletes Commission for hosting the forum, and the guest speakers for helping the forum to be successful.
“I believe this is the golden era for our Saudi athletes, especially because of having HRH Prince Abdul Aziz as SAOC president, and athletes who share the same concerns any athletes have and thus tend to help and support them,” he said.