JEDDAH: Recent reforms targeting the inclusion of women in sports in Saudi Arabia are paying dividends. For the first time in history, young Saudi females are participating in football, taekwondo, boxing, motor car racing, tennis, fencing, golf, and more.
Since 2015, small yet significant steps have been made, with Saudi women making international appearances thanks to the establishment of several sports federations. Female national teams have been set up, and Saudi women are now free to practice sports with support from the Saudi leadership.
As a result, women across the Kingdom have been stepping up to the challenge and representing their country in regional and international tournaments.
With the support of Saudi Vision 2030’s Quality of Life program, there has been a 59 percent increase in the number of athletes participating in local competitions has increased by 59 percent since 2015.
There has also been a 166-percent increase in the number of women competing in international competition, a 117-percent increase in the number of coaches, and a 150-percent increase in the number of female athletes.
In the same period, the number of official female national teams representing the Kingdom went from zero to 23. Saudi sportswomen have notched up around 100 medals in regional and international events.
Meanwhile, 12 Saudi women currently hold prominent international sporting positions and there are 38 Saudi sports federations, ensuring inclusive progress throughout the sector.
The progress hasn’t been limited to team sports. There have been several individuals who blazing a trail in their respective fields.
Arab News has compiled a list of a few pioneering female athletes from across the Kingdom who are paving the way for other young women eager to show their talent and passion.
Twenty-eight-year-old Rasha Al-Khamis was the kingdom’s first certified female boxer. She fell in love with the sport while studying at the University of Southern California.
When she returned home, she had a chance encounter with the president of the Saudi Boxing Federation, and she suggested ways to boost female participation in the sport. She became a member of the Saudi Boxing Federation. The rest is history.
Mashael Al-Obaidan is the first female to obtain a rally license in Saudi Arabia. She got her first taste of motorsports riding dirt bikes and quads in the desert when she was young and has now participated in the prestigious Dakar Rally.
Anoud Al-Asmari, 35, is Saudi Arabia’s first female football referee and the first Saudi woman to receive her international referee’s badge from the Federation of International Football Associations.
Lubna Al-Omair is the first Saudi female to become an Olympic fencer. She co-founded the Dhahran Fencing Club — the first in the country to train women in the sport.
Dalma Malhas is a Saudi Arabian showjumper and became the first Saudi Arabian female athlete from any sport to compete at the Youth Olympic Games when she took part in the individual equestrian jumping competition at the 2010 Games in Singapore.
Encouraged by her mother, Arwa Mutabagani, and coach Duccio Bartalucci, she won the Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum Creative Sports Award in 2011.
Farah Jefry is an 18-year-old footballer who plays as a midfielder for Jeddah Eagles. She has become the first Saudi sportswoman to be signed up by Adidas.
Yara Alhogbani, the Kingdom’s first female professional tennis player, hopes to climb the Women’s Tennis Association rankings and continue to represent her country internationally.
She has already participated in various tournaments and was the first Saudi female to play at the pro tour level and achieve an international ranking.
Ragad Al-Naimi is the first professional Saudi female boxer, having been introduced to the sport while studying in the US. Her passion for boxing compelled her to continue training upon her return to the Kingdom, which has witnessed a 300-percent surge in male and female boxers registered with the Saudi Arabian Boxing Federation since 2015. Last month in Diriyah, Al-Naimi won her debut fight on points.
Dania Akeel is a passionate motorsports athlete who was the first Saudi female to receive a license for Motorcycle Circuit Racing. Following an injury, Akeel moved into rally driving and became the first Saudi female to participate in an international rally competition.
Leena Al-Hakeem is a rising star of the Saudi Jiu-Jitsu team. The 17-year-old has already won medals at some of the most prestigious competitions regionally and globally, including the Jiu-Jitsu International Federation Asian Championship, the Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship, and the Jiu-Jitsu International Federation World Championship.