A Modern Sports System Produces World-Class Athletes

Saudi Arabia's national plan for the development and promotion of sports has included the establishment of a network of large sports cities, such as the King Fahd Stadium in Riyadh and smaller sports complexes in cities and towns across the Kingdom.

In a little over three decades, sports have undergone a dramatic transformation in Saudi Arabia. Although the country has a long tradition of sports domestically, it was only in the 1970s that Saudi Arabia first participated in major international sporting events such as the soccer World Cup, the Asian Games and the Olympics.

Over the span of these past three decades, the country has emerged as a respected competitor in international events. With the passing of every year, Saudi athletes compete with distinction in a growing number of sports, setting the pace for more and more young Saudis to follow.

The GPYW hosts an international seminar on sports medicine.

Saad Al-Asmari, ranked third worldwide, competes with international athletes in the 3000-meter Steeplechase in Sweden.

This transformation was initiated in 1964 when Saudi Arabia joined the International Olympic Committee and was pursued with vigor in the 1970s. Emphasizing the importance of physical education and recreation as part of its broader plan for the all-encompassing socioeconomic development that was taking place, Saudi Arabia instituted a program to develop and promote sports throughout the country.

The first, and most important step was the establishment in 1974 of the General Presidency of Youth Welfare (GPYW). Under the direction of President Prince Faisal Bin Fahd Bin Abdul Aziz, the organization soon formulated and launched a series of five-year sports development plans to provide the people of Saudi Arabia with quality facilities to achieve these goals and to ensure that these facilities were available to as many Saudis as possible in large cities and small towns alike.

Working in conjunction with the Ministries of Education and Higher Education, which are responsible for maintaining physical fitness programs in the country's schools, the GPYW promotes sporting activities at all educational levels, from elementary school through colleges and universities. Outside the educational system, the GPYW has developed a comprehensive sports program consisting of three tiers of facilities, which were constructed after careful consideration of population density and local needs.

The first tier is made up of "Sports Cities," which are located in 15 major cities in the Kingdom, and are comprised of a multi-purpose outdoor stadium seating up to 60,000 people, an indoor stadium seating up to 5,000, Olympic-size pools, indoor and outdoor courts and playing fields, cafeterias, conference halls and sports medicine clinics.

Saudi fans are avid supporters of Saudi national teams, such as the basketball squad competing against South Korea (top), and individual athletes (bottom).

"Sports Clubs" comprise the second tier and are located in smaller towns. They are broken into three categories: Category A Sports Clubs have large soccer stadiums, outdoor courts, a pool, playing fields, recreation areas and youth camps; Category B Clubs have all these facilities except the youth camps; and Category C have these same facilities except youth camps and pools. These Sports Clubs are open to everyone, and in addition to providing sports and recreation facilities, they organize hundreds of regional and national sporting events every year, giving Saudi youth the opportunity to gain experience in competition.

The third tier, located in residential areas of large cities and towns, consists of neighborhood facilities which provide playing fields and open spaces, as well as buildings with indoor recreation activities.

This type of exposure is important, as individuals who perform well may attend special training camps, and it is from these camps that the players for the national teams are selected. The chance to represent their country in international competition is a dream for most young Saudis, and the GPYW programs allow everyone the opportunity to improve himself and reach for the brass ring.

Through the various programs of the GPYW and of its sports federations, young Saudis have the opportunity to compete in a wide range of sports, from Special Olympics (top), to handball (middle) and equestrian events (bottom).

To help identify and develop outstanding young athletes in different sports, the GPYW has established 18 federations in the major sporting disciplines. Each is responsible for organizing sporting events in its field and making sports available to as many young people as possible. By allowing young Saudis to participate in a wide variety of sports, these federations offer them the opportunity to choose the ones that appeal to them and in which they have the most potential. Athletes that show promise are taken under the wing of these federations, and their development is supervised and assisted to allow them to reach their peak performance and possibly one day represent their nation in regional and international competition.

Today, these federations have greatly expanded public participation in soccer, volleyball, basketball, tennis, table tennis, handball, weight lifting, boxing, swimming, shooting, gymnastics, fencing, track and field, cycling, Taekwando, Judo, equestrian events, squash and other sports.

The national soccer team defeats Belgium (top) to reach the second round of the World Cup USA '94. Young Saudi fans (center) greet the team. Saudi athletes have also ventured into other sports, such as boxing (bottom).

As part of its broader strategy to develop sports, the GPYW has instituted permanent programs in coaching, managing, training and refereeing to build up the support personnel vital to the development of sports. The GPYW has also been very active in promoting sports medicine to ensure the safety and augment the performance of Saudi athletes, and has established the Sports Medicine Hospital, where athletes are treated by highly trained medical personnel. The focus of the hospital is two-fold: providing excellent care to the injured and educating the players on proper training procedures to help them avoid injuries.

In addition to the network of sports cities, complexes and clubs it operates, the GPYW also supports, either directly or through the federations, private clubs throughout the country. Although most of these focus on soccer, by far the most popular sport in the country, many clubs have been established in other forms of athletics in recent years.

To give outstanding soccer players an opportunity to develop their game to the highest international levels, in 1992 the Saudi Arabian Football Federation began awarding its players professional status. Today those players compete in over 150 clubs in various towns in a well-organized national league program. It is from these clubs that the players who represent Saudi Arabia at regional and international games are selected.

From among the tens of thousands of dedicated athletes active in the GPYW¹s various sports programs and the private clubs in Saudi Arabia, the best are selected to participate in the Olympics. The Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee (SAOC), now incorporated into the GPYW, coordinates its efforts with the other branches of the GPYW, including the federations, to form national teams for the Olympics.

GPYW President Prince Faisal Bin Fahd Bin Abdul Aziz also heads the SAOC. An active member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), his dedication and drive have been the moving force behind the rapid development of sports in Saudi Arabia.

Since the original Saudi expansion, other projects have included the repair and refurbishment of the Ka'abah, the installation of a ventilation and cooling system and the opening up of the central space around the Ka'abah to allow more area for pilgrims to perform tawaf, the circumambulation.

The Saudi athletes who will walk behind the national flag at the opening ceremonies of the 26th Olympiad in Atlanta on July 20, 1996, are the product of a national effort enthusiastically supported by the Government and people of Saudi Arabia. They reflect the sense of accomplishment and future hopes of a nation dedicated to excelling in sports as in all other human endeavors.

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