HANGZHOU: When the Olympic Council of Asia asked countries participating in the 19th Asian Games to nominate a female and male athlete to carry their national flag during the opening ceremony, it aimed to promote gender equality in sports.
As the games opened at the Olympic stadium in the Chinese city of Hangzhou last week, the Saudi team took the request to the next level, making sure that not only a woman flag carrier was in the forefront during the march pass, but the whole female delegation.
Equestrian Ahmed Adnan H. Sharbatly and taekwondo athlete Dunya Ali Abutaleb, holding the Kingdom’s flag, were followed by a group of female athletes and officials, with male delegates walking only behind them.
For both onlookers and athletes, it was a display of how inclusive Saudi Arabia’s sports approach has been in recent years.
“It’s such a great time to be part of the change in Saudi Arabia. And we, as Saudi females, are making history and marking our presence,” Abrar Medhat Bukhari, member of the Saudi taekwondo representation, told Arab News.
“Right now, we are more empowered and ambitious. Every day, we are given better opportunities.”
The Saudi Vision 2030 transformation strategy has been pivotal in the rapid development of sports in the region. With the Kingdom already acquiring rights to host the 2034 edition of the Asian Games along with bids to other top sporting events, female athletes are guaranteed more platforms.
Bukhari believes that with time and more exposure, success is inevitable for Saudi women.
“Saudi Arabia has so much passion and ambition. With the Vision 2030, we are accelerating in performance and development. We have more support than ever, which is helping talent rise every day,” she said.
“We will surely succeed and become one of the great countries in sports. All we need is more time and more exposure, as we are just starting.”
In the previous edition of the games, held in Indonesia in 2018, Saudi Arabia included female athletes for the first time.
In the current games, 19 women are representing the Kingdom in archery, boxing, equestrian sports, fencing, weightlifting, ju-jitsu, karate, kurash, rowing, taekwondo, and tennis.
Abdulaziz Al-Baqous, media attache to the Saudi Olympic and Paralympic Committee for the 19th Asian Games, has also emphasized the importance of women athletes in the Kingdom’s sports development efforts.
“In a short period of investment into female athletes, we have started to see results … We already have more than 10 women’s national teams,” he told Arab News.
“Not only this. In terms of representation in the federation, there is a rule of having at least 30 percent female (representatives) in the leadership among sports associations. Our female athletes are delivering results. And hopefully, in the future, they will do more.”