Saudi Athletes in Atlanta Strive to Build on Their Nation's Olympic Tradition

Saudi Arabian athletes stand proudly behind the national flag at the Seoul Olympic Games of 1988.

"We're proud to be part of the Olympics, for this represents an achievement of a country and its people, and to us our people are our most important natural resource." So said a television commercial during the 1984 Olympics, referring to the participation of the Saudi teams in soccer and in other sports in the 23rd Games in Los Angeles. This statement is indicative of the pride and honor felt by a nation that, although young, has a strong history in sports and sportsmanship well-supported by the government and the people. It also reflects the determination of the Government and people of Saudi Arabia to build on its tradition of excelling in sports at all levels, from the recreational through international venues to the Olympics.

The Olympics have always inspired feelings of national pride, both in the inhabitants of the host country and in the inhabitants of every country sending athletes to the games. Since 1964 Saudi Arabia has been a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and in 1996 it will send athletes to Atlanta to compete in soccer, track and field, equestrian events and shooting.

President of the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee Prince Faisal Bin Fahd Bin Abdul Aziz (left) confers with President of the International Olympic Committee Juan Antonio Samaranch (center).

Participation in the Olympics is not new to the Kingdom; Saudi Arabian athletes have represented the country with distinction since 1972, missing only the 1980 games when Saudi Arabia joined the U.S.-led boycott of the Moscow games following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Saudi Arabia sent its largest delegation to the Olympics in Los Angeles in 1984. For the first time ever, the Kingdom's soccer team was represented in the Olympics, and although it lost its first game to Brazil and tied its second with Malaysia, it was a great moment in Saudi soccer history and set the course for the national soccer team's participation in future Olympics. The soccer team was accompanied to the 1984 Olympics by athletes in cycling, archery, fencing and shooting.

The Prince also regularly attends IOC meetings.

Building on its performance at the 1984 games, Saudi Arabia sent another large contingent of athletes to the following Olympics, held in Seoul, South Korea, in 1988. Saudi athletes represented their nation with distinction in track and field, archery and shooting. In Seoul, Saudi Arabia won its first Olympic medal - a bronze in demonstration Taekwondo. Ibrahim Al-Gafar defeated Katsuhiro Oki of Japan to bring the medal home in the largest Olympics ever to that point.

Saudi athletes at the opening ceremonies of the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.

In the 25th Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, in 1992, Saudi athletes represented the Kingdom in a number of sports, including some in which the Kingdom had never before competed, such as gymnastics, table tennis and swimming.

In 1996, Saudi Arabia will again send a large delegation to the Olympics in Atlanta. As in past years, Saudi athletes will represent the Kingdom in several different sports. But the focus for Saudi fans will be squarely on the soccer team. The national team earned the right to compete in the 26th Olympiad this summer through a grueling series of matches to determine the three teams which will represent the largest continent on the globe - Asia. At the final qualifying rounds held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia's Hussain Omar Sulaiman scored in the sixth minute of overtime against Iraq to clinch their berth in the 1996 Olympics. South Korea and Japan are the other two teams representing Asia.

On May 26, 1996, Saudi Arabia announced the names of the 26 soccer players chosen to represent the Kingdom at the Games. Six members come from the Ahli Club, five from Nasr, three each from Ittifak, Hilal and Shabab, two from Ittihad, and one each from Uhd, Qadisiya, Wahda and Rawda. This year's team also includes Fuad Anwar Amin, a member of both the winning 1989 team in the World Youth Cup and the 1994 World Cup team.

Saudi athletes have performed with distinction internationally; including winning a bronze at the 1995 world championship track and field meet in Sweden.

Arriving in the United States on June 23, 1996, the players spend three weeks training in New Jersey. They then move to Orlando, Florida to begin acclimating to the hot and humid playing conditions. Six friendly matches will help them prepare for the tough competition ahead.

The competition for the Saudi squad will indeed be intense. The national team is placed in Group B with soccer powerhouses Spain, France and Australia. The Saudi team will play Spain at Orlando on July 20, Australia at Miami on July 22 and France at Miami on July 24.

At the 23rd Olympiad in Los Angeles in 1984, the Saudi soccer team qualified for the first time to play in the Olympics.

Only two teams from Group B will advance to the quarter finals, where they will play the top two national squads from Group A, which include the United States, Argentina, Portugal and Tunisia.

Whatever the outcome of the games, there is little doubt that the Saudi national soccer team will represent the nation with pride and distinction. Over the past decade, the Kingdom has emerged as a highly respected presence in international soccer. During World Cup USA '94, the national team advanced to the second round of the competition and was widely acclaimed by a pleasantly surprised world soccer community and the sports media, with the Baltimore Sun saying the Saudi performance "provided the 15th World Cup with one of its most magical moments."

Saudi fans welcomed the athletes back home at the King Fahd Stadium in Riyadh.

Throughout its first half century, the company, in addition to its oil and gas operations, was also involved in building housing, schools and other amenities for its growing work force.

Prince Sultan Bin Fahd Bin Abdul Aziz, Vice President of the General Presidency of Youth Welfare, the body responsible for the development and promotion of sports in Saudi Arabia, and the Vice President of the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee recently expressed confidence in the team and hoped that it would represent the Kingdom well during the games, a sentiment shared by millions of fans in Saudi Arabia and across the world.

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