How Shaima Al-Husseini and Sports For All helped promote a healthy lifestyle in Saudi Arabia

How Shaima Al-Husseini and Sports For All helped promote a healthy lifestyle in Saudi Arabia
Shaima Al-Husseini is the Managing Director of Saudi’s Sports For All (SFA) Federation. (Sports For All)
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Updated 11 March 2021

How Shaima Al-Husseini and Sports For All helped promote a healthy lifestyle in Saudi Arabia

How Shaima Al-Husseini and Sports For All helped promote a healthy lifestyle in Saudi Arabia
  • The positive impact Saudi Sports For All (SFA) had on a homebound population’s mental and physical wellbeing during a suffocating lockdown has been tangible
  • Programs such as “Baytak Nadeek” (Your Home, Your Gym), the Women’s Fitness Festival, and others attracted thousands, and often millions, of participants through social media channels

The year 2020 will forever be remembered for one thing, and one thing only. But from adversity came innovation, and a fierce fightback.

What the rest of 2021 and beyond will look like after the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic abates remains to be seen, but the positive impact Saudi Sports For All (SFA) had on a homebound population’s mental and physical wellbeing during a suffocating lockdown has been tangible.

Programs such as “Baytak Nadeek” (Your Home, Your Gym), the Women’s Fitness Festival, and others attracted thousands, and often millions, of participants through social media channels.

“The lockdown of 2020 showed us how we can innovate and work around tight, necessary, restrictions.” Shaima Al-Husseini, managing director at SFA, told Arab News. “If we have another lockdown, we could build on the foundation of the successful programs we’ve put in place and innovate further as needed.”

While Saudi Arabia and other GCC countries are not short on major international sporting events, the SFA’s mission is to ensure that sports thrive at grassroots levels. It’s a bottom-up approach that has over the last three years seen the SFA sign a number of fitness initiatives at local communities across the country.

Among them is an agreement with the Ministry of Municipality and Rural Affairs and Housing to activate parks and public spaces in three cities, with multi-sport, running and walking programs, equipment rentals, and community academies being introduced to impact healthy long-term behavior. 

In November, the SFA signed a memorandum of understanding with Majid Al-Futtaim under which the sports group will produce community programs at future Majid Al-Futtaim malls, while receiving guidance on how to ensure SFA facilities are aligned with international standard green building requirements.

There are other plans, on a more global scale.

“We also developed and strengthened partnerships both locally and internationally with parties such as the World Health Organization (WHO), PepsiCo, the Global Goals World Cup, The Association for International Sport for All, Saudi Arabian Federation for Electronic and Intellectual Sports, and many others,” Al-Husseini said.

“Our collaboration with the WHO will see the SFA host global events in the Kingdom, including the Riyadh edition of Walk the Talk,” she added. “The SFA’s strategy will also receive technical assistance from WHO which will keep it aligned with the global action plan of physical activity.”

Since its establishment in 2018, the SFA has become an integral part of the Saudi sporting scene, but for Al-Husseini, there is much work still to be done and no time to sit back and admire what has already been achieved.

“The SFA’s focus is to take a holistic approach to healthy living under several pillars that benefit all sectors of society. So, it’s difficult to be proud of one (particular) step, when we have achieved so much in different areas,” she said.

“With 2020’s lockdown restricting movement, we had to innovate to bring ‘at home’ solutions to Saudis throughout the Kingdom, and we were able to deliver a number of digital offerings to keep people active. We continue to work towards our goal to have 40 percent of all people in Saudi active by 2030.”

The level of engagement during the lockdown prompted SFA President Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal to say: “I’m awestruck by the power of our healthy and active community.”

Crowning a hectic 2020 for the SFA was the launch of the Women’s Football League (WFL) in November, with 24 teams taking part in the competition across Riyadh, Jedddah, and Dammam.

“The establishment of the WFL has been a landmark achievement in Saudi’s sporting history,” said Al-Husseini.

What perhaps went unnoticed beyond its cultural significance was the sheer scope of logistics needed to get the WFL off the ground, with the competition originally mooted for the start of the year but delayed by COVID-19.

“Having the WFL kick off in three parts of the country allowed for a wide scope of players to come forward and sign up, and we had 607 players in 24 teams that had all-female organizational and technical teams,” said Al-Husseini, adding: “The players’ enthusiasm for the game and their sheer talent were remarkable. It’s exciting to think about how the SFA can continue to develop the League, both in terms of enhancing the infrastructure for women in sports and offering training opportunities for local referees.”

On Dec. 17, Challenge Riyadh defeated Jeddah Eagles to take home the WFL Champions Cup and the prize money of SR150,000 ($39,975). The league is set to return for a second season.

Its success bodes well for the future of other organized sports competitions.

“If the interest in the WFL is any indicator, women’s sport in Saudi Arabia is likely to expand exponentially,” Al-Husseini said. “We are working towards developing sports across all sectors and women’s sport is certainly included in that.”

Despite her busy schedule, Al-Husseini herself continues to regularly play tennis and squash, and is an avid follower of basketball and American Football. And while she has no particular favorite individual athletes, she points to several inspirational Saudi female role models.

“HRH Princess Reema bint Bandar Al-Saud is a role model for any young female Saudi,” she said. “Not only is she the former Chair of the SFA, but she is also currently the Saudi Ambassador to the US. 

“In July, she was confirmed as a member of the International Olympic Committee, which further cemented her commitment to continue endorsing the ongoing endeavors of the SFA, where she remains a member of the board, to reach its Vision 2030 goals.”

Al-Husseini believes that while the SFA’s role is to encourage a healthy and active lifestyle at community level, it can also be a catalyst to promoting the nation’s high-achieving athletes towards professional careers in sport.

“We are working with different bodies to develop the necessary infrastructure to keep raising the caliber of sporting talent in the Kingdom,” she said.

“As different sports continue to receive the necessary support in terms of funding and facilities, and as athletes continue to be given the right environment, training, and encouragement to achieve their best, Saudi Arabia will continue to produce competitors that will make their mark in the international and Olympic arenas.”


Exclusive: Israeli judoka Raz Hershko lauds ‘brave’ Saudi opponent Tahani Al-Qahtani

Exclusive: Israeli judoka Raz Hershko lauds ‘brave’ Saudi opponent Tahani Al-Qahtani
Updated 04 August 2021

Exclusive: Israeli judoka Raz Hershko lauds ‘brave’ Saudi opponent Tahani Al-Qahtani

Exclusive: Israeli judoka Raz Hershko lauds ‘brave’ Saudi opponent Tahani Al-Qahtani

DUBAI: Two female judokas, one mat, one Olympic contest. That the two athletes competing, Tahani Al-Qahtani and Raz Hershko, happened to be from Saudi Arabia and Israel, made the recent first round of the women’s judo 78-kilogram-class meeting at Tokyo 2020 more than just an ordinary bout.

The two countries have no formal relations and no history of sporting competition to speak of. Furthermore, regional politics and boycotts movements have made it a norm that Arab athletes refuse to take part in any match opposite an Israeli counterpart in fear that this might be interpreted as a form of recognition.

This is why, in an exclusive interview with Arab News, Israeli judoka Hershko had made it a point to praise the bravery of Al-Qahtani. Not only did the Saudi judoka defy popular calls by hatemongers to boycott the match, but she participated knowing very well that Hershko has far more international experience and was clearly the likely winner.

The 23-year-old Israeli said: “I think it is amazing that we both put politics aside to do something we love. I was super excited that anything can happen at the Olympics.

“I knew it was rare for an (Arab) to accept to fight like this, but I was so excited when she accepted. Both of us put politics to the side and did what we loved together in the match.”

Algerian Fethi Nourine and Sudan’s Mohammed Abdalrasool had withdrawn from the judo men’s plus-73-kg competition rather than face the possibility of taking on an Israeli athlete. But Al-Qahtani chose to compete against Hershko, a decision that drew praise from Japanese media and prompted a wave of support from high-profile figures and sports fans in Saudi Arabia.

Al-Qahtani was the last of the Kingdom’s 33 athletes to confirm her place at Tokyo 2020, her wild card selection making her only the second female judoka from the country to participate in the Olympics since the 2012 London Games. The two women had walked out side-by-side onto the mat ahead of what turned out to be a tough match for the inexperienced 22-year-old Saudi. As the fight progressed, Hershko racked up the points, eventually beating Al-Qahtani 11-0.

“It was a tough fight in the beginning. She (Al-Qahtani) was brave to take on the fight despite pressure from hatemongers about her decision to fight me,” Hershko added. The victor pointed out that she and Al-Qahtani were simply human beings, females from different countries, playing in a match. “I don’t think it was different from fighting someone from the US or South Africa. It was great that Al-Qahtani bravely accepted and let politics stay out of the picture.”

After Al-Qahtani’s loss, some questioned whether the pressure of the situation had affected her performance.

While Al-Qahtani was not available for comment, Hershko noted the importance of the match and how sport could be a uniting force at a time when politics in the Middle East continued to be a hot topic, even after several countries had normalized relations with Israel.

“Politics has nothing to do with it, it was a good match,” said Hershko.

In a statement after the bout, the International Judo Federation said: “This game shows that sports can transcend political and external influences.”

Al-Qahtani’s courageous performance on and off the judo mat demonstrated a notable shift in Saudi Arabia, and an openness to rise above current geopolitics in the realm of sports and culture, both avenues that could bring people from opposing nations together.

On whether she would accept an invitation to compete in Saudi Arabia, Hershko said: “Of course, why not?”


Qatar beats Italy to reach men’s beach volleyball semifinals in Tokyo

Qatar beats Italy to reach men’s beach volleyball semifinals in Tokyo
Updated 04 August 2021

Qatar beats Italy to reach men’s beach volleyball semifinals in Tokyo

Qatar beats Italy to reach men’s beach volleyball semifinals in Tokyo
  • Duo of Cherif Younousse and Ahmed Tijan are now on a five-match winning streak ahead of tomorrow’s clash with Russian Olympic Committee team

TOKYO: Qatar has reached the Tokyo 2020 beach volleyball men’s semifinal after beating Italy in straight sets at Shiokaze Park on Wednesday evening.
The Qatari duo of Cherif Younousse and Ahmed Tijan put on an impressive display to defeat the Italian team of Paolo Nicolai and Daniele Lupo 2-0 (21-17, 23-21) in the quarterfinal.
The Qatari athletes, both 26, will now take on Viacheslav Krasilnikov and Oleg Stoyanovskiy of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) on Thursday afternoon (from 4pm KSA).
On Sunday, Younousse and Tijan defeated the US 2-1 (14-21, 21-19,15-11) in the round of 16 to reach today’s last-eight match.
Qatar’s beach volleyball team is now on a five-match winning streak at Tokyo 2020.
The started their Olympic campaign on July 25 by beating Switzerland 2-1 (21-17, 21-16) in their preliminary round — Group C match.
They followed that up with two more group victories; a 2-1 win over Italy three days later, and a 2-0 against the US last Friday.


Syrian Man Asaad wins bronze in Tokyo 2020 weightlifting competition

Syrian Man Asaad wins bronze in Tokyo 2020 weightlifting competition
Updated 04 August 2021

Syrian Man Asaad wins bronze in Tokyo 2020 weightlifting competition

Syrian Man Asaad wins bronze in Tokyo 2020 weightlifting competition
  • Total score of 424 was enough to see 27-year-old finish behind Lasha Talakhadze, Ali Davoudi
  • Asaad had finished 15th at Rio 2016 with a score of 400 in the 105kg competition

RIYADH: Syrian weightlifter Man Asaad on Wednesday picked up an Olympic bronze medal in the men’s plus-109-kilogram competition at the Tokyo International Forum.

The 27-year-old posted a 190 in the snatch category and followed that with a clean and jerk best of 234, for a total of 424.

Lasha Talakhadze of Georgia won gold with a new Olympic and world record 488, while silver medal winner Ali Davoudi of Iran managed a score of 441.

Asaad had finished 15th at Rio 2016 with a score of 400 in the 105kg competition, while his best performance at an international tournament remains a silver in the 109kg at the 2020 Asian Championships in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, when he managed to total 433.


Egyptian riders fall short of medals in Tokyo 2020 jumping individual final

Egyptian riders fall short of medals in Tokyo 2020 jumping individual final
Updated 04 August 2021

Egyptian riders fall short of medals in Tokyo 2020 jumping individual final

Egyptian riders fall short of medals in Tokyo 2020 jumping individual final
  • In a strong field of 30, Mouda Zeyada and Nayel Nassar finished 19th and 24th

TOKYO: The Egyptian equestrian athletes Mouda Zeyada and Nayel Nassar failed in their quest for Olympic gold at the jumping individual final at Tokyo’s Equestrian Park on Wednesday afternoon.
Their times of 86.63 and 89.63 left Zeyada and Nassar in positions 19 and 24 respectively and out of contention for the medals.


In the jump-off to decide the winner after six competitors shared top spot, the gold medal eventually went to the British rider Ben Maher (37.85), the silver to the Swede Peder Fredricson (38.02), and bronze to Maikel van der Vleuten of the Netherlands (38.90)
On Tuesday, a near-faultless ride had seen 30-year-old Nassar progress to today’s final, where he was joined by 26-year-old compatriot Zeyada among the competition’s top 30 qualifiers.
Nassar in particular has been the center of attention since the weekend after Bill Gates, father of his wife Jennifer Katharine Gates, sent him a message of good luck on social media that went viral in the days before the start of the competition.


Star-studded teams confirmed for 2021 Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup at Ascot

Star-studded teams confirmed for 2021 Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup at Ascot
Updated 04 August 2021

Star-studded teams confirmed for 2021 Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup at Ascot

Star-studded teams confirmed for 2021 Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup at Ascot
  • 3 riders will represent each team of Great Britain, Ireland, Ladies, Rest of the World
  • Dubai Duty Free CEO Colm McLoughlin: The Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup is undoubtedly one of the highlights of our horseracing sponsorship portfolio and one of Ascot’s most popular events

DUBAI: A star-studded field of jockeys will line up for the Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup at Ascot this year with four new-look teams set to do battle in the 20th running of the event on Saturday.

Teams will comprise of three riders representing Great Britain, Ireland, Ladies, and Rest of the World contesting six valuable handicaps each worth £42,000 ($58,500).

Dubai Duty Free chief executive officer and executive vice president, Colm McLoughlin, said: “The Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup is undoubtedly one of the highlights of our horseracing sponsorship portfolio and one of Ascot’s most popular events.

“Unfortunately, the ongoing (coronavirus disease) COVID-19 travel restrictions will prevent us from being there in person this year, but we will be following all the action closely from Dubai as the day unfolds and we wish all the jockeys and the horses’ connections a great day.”

Great Britain will be captained by Adam Kirby, this year’s Epsom Derby winning jockey who will be making his second appearance in the competition. He will be joined by top international jockey James Doyle, and one of this year’s Royal Ascot-winning riders Cieren Fallon, best known for his association with high-class sprinter Oxted.

Doyle will be making his third appearance in the competition having ridden a winner on both previous occasions in 2012 and 2013. It will be Fallon’s Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup debut, but he will be looking to maintain a strong family tradition on the day after his father, Kieren, won the Alistair Haggis Silver Saddle in 2003 and was on the winning team in 2001 and 2002.

This year’s Ascot Gold Cup-winning jockey Joe Fanning will captain the Ireland team and he will have the help of rising-star David Egan who has enjoyed big-race success in Saudi Arabia and Dubai this season. The Ireland team is completed by Tadhg O’Shea, the most successful jockey of all-time in the UAE having ridden more than 600 winners and won the UAE jockeys’ championship for the ninth time this season.

A formidable Ladies team will be captained by Hayley Turner, the most successful jockey in the history of the Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup with eight winners and 297 points from 13 appearances. Turner’s team will also feature globe-trotting sensation Mickaelle Michel from France and Scotland’s Nicola Currie.

Sean Levey will lead the Rest of the World team and the Swaziland-born Classic-winning jockey will be joined by Kevin Stott who became the first Dane to win a British Group 1 when victory in last year’s Diamond Jubilee at Royal Ascot initiated a memorable double on the day. Subject to being released by his retainer, three-time champion jockey Silvestre de Sousa, who has one previous Shergar Cup appearance in 2016, will complete the Rest of the World team.

Nick Smith, director of racing and public affairs at Ascot Racecourse, said: “We’re thrilled with the jockey lineup for the Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup this year. Obviously COVID-19 has made international travel very difficult, so to pull together such a strong set of teams that still has a global feel is really pleasing.

“It should be a great day’s racing and another thrilling renewal of the competition which sadly didn’t take place last year, but we look forward to building the day back up in the years to come.”