Development Of Sports

The introduction of a national education system in the 1950s was the first step in the development of modern sports in Saudi Arabia. An integral part of the education system, sports spread throughout the country as new schools were built in large cities and small towns alike.

The development of sports acquired momentum with the introduction of the First Development Plan (1970-74). At the time, a decision was made to establish a nationwide network of sports facilities that could be enjoyed and used by all. The plan called for the construction of sports and athletic facilities, the establishment of recreational programs and the creation of clubs for the Kingdom's youth.

A further step in encouraging public participation in sporting activities was taken in 1974 with the establishment of the General Presidency of Youth Welfare (GPYW). Its mandate is to make sporting, recreational and cultural facilities and events accessible to young Saudis throughout the country and to get as many people interested and involved in these activities as possible.

The presidency's activities complement those of the Ministry of Education, which is responsible for maintaining physical education programs within the school system, and the Ministry of Higher Education, which oversees sports programs at Saudi Arabia's universities and colleges. Today, schools, colleges and universities emphasize sports as an integral part of their curriculum.

Outside the country's educational system, the GPYW is the primary provider of sports facilities and programs. With almost unlimited moral and material support from Saudi leaders, the GPYW has put into place a formidable sports structure and program that covers the entire country. Based on studies on population density and needs in various parts of the Kingdom, the GPYW initiated a three-tier program.

The first provides for the establishment of huge sports complexes -- called Sports Cities -- in major population centers. These gigantic facilities are scattered throughout Saudi Arabia, and more are being built. Each has a multipurpose stadium with a seating capacity of between 10,000 and 60,000, a 5,000-seat indoor stadium, Olympic-size swimming pools, indoor and outdoor courts and playgrounds, cafeterias, halls for conferences and clinics for sports medicine.

The second tier of the GPYW's sports program concentrates on establishing smaller neighborhood sports facilities and playgrounds in large urban centers where young Saudis can play basketball, volleyball and other sports near their homes. In addition to parks and open spaces, these centers also have buildings where indoor recreational activities can be arranged.

The third tier focuses on making sports facilities available in smaller population centers by establishing Sports Clubs in all cities and towns. Although not as large as the Sports Cities, these clubs meet the needs of residents of towns and villages. Differing in size according to the number of residents of the town, the clubs offer a range of facilities for different sports, including soccer fields, indoor and outdoor courts, swimming pools, playgrounds, recreational areas and accommodations for youth camps.

Sports training programs in a diverse range of fields from archery to soccer are available to Saudis of every age at the country's sports facilities, large and small. Though open to all, they are intended to introduce young Saudis to various sporting activities and offer training at different levels. In addition to building sports facilities, the GPYW has also introduced programs to encourage their use by the general public. To achieve that objective, it has introduced a program of annual events on the local and national levels at all its facilities. These include competition in local leagues, 'Sports for All' gatherings and 'Folk Games Days'.

GPYW sports clubs organize neighborhood and local sporting events throughout the year. The more accomplished athletes are sent by these clubs to participate in the 200 or so annual district and national sports events organized by the GPYW. Athletes who excel at these events are enrolled in special training camps for serious local and national competition. Twenty youth sports camps throughout the country host thousands of young Saudis every year. Equipped with modern sleeping, dining, sports and recreational facilities, they offer sports training in an atmosphere that emphasizes Saudi Arabia's heritage.

The best young athletes emerging from these programs are then selected for intensive training to represent Saudi Arabia in international events. The Kingdom's 18 sports federations, which are supervised by the GPYW, organize leagues and tournaments for these athletes to sharpen their skills. Additionally, athletes and teams attend more than 40 sporting events outside the country each year and participate in major international sporting events inside the Kingdom.