Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)
The 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio has come to an end. Many countries around the world are celebrating their athletes’ achievements in the tournament. Unfortunately, we are left to rejoice only one Olympics-related accomplishment i.e. sending female athletes from the Kingdom to participate in different events for the first time in the history of Olympics. Apart from that we or to be more precise our athletes did not achieve anything to be really proud of. We simply participated just for the sake of participation – a mere formality, I must say.
Saudi Arabia spends huge funds on sports and sporting activities, and everybody knows about our love for football. The Kingdom is the largest market in the Middle East when it comes to sports goods and sports channel subscription. Our kids, as young as 10, know the names of every international professional athlete particularly football players. Young Saudis are famous to travel to Europe over weekends just to enjoy a football match. During the past few years, we have witnessed an increase in the number of private fitness centers in almost every nook and corner of the Kingdom where a large number of Saudi youth go to maintain their health and fitness. In other words, Saudis appear to be much ahead of many people around the world in their love for sports but their passion has so far failed to translate into any achievement.
Saudi Arabia in the past decades had built modern sports arenas and stadia. These arenas consist of swimming pools and other sporting facilities. Unfortunately, these modern facilities have failed to identify and groom local talents. Saudi universities have large stadia and sports complexes but these are rarely used for any kind of competition or sporting events. As a matter of fact, we have for many years ignored the sporting activities in schools. Now, not only different sports activities are going backward but our rating in football is also on the decline.
In the past, our national football team and leading football clubs used to make headlines for their excellent performance and achievements but now the situation has changed. We have talent, sports facilities and the required government but we are unable to perform and compete with others. It is clear that things are not going in the right direction. In the past our football national team was considered the best in Asia and we used to qualify to be part of the world cup and now, our teams came back from the Olympics empty handed. We only participated in specific limited sports that don’t really reflect the wide variety of sports activities. And this is why there is a need to re-introduce sports activities in elementary, preparatory and high schools. In the past, we used to have sports competitions between different classes of the same school and between different schools. That was the best way to spot and groom talent. We should also support other sports as well. Sports are very important to keep the youth busy, active and healthy. As we know that the Saudi society has the highest obesity and diabetes rates in the region and promotion of sports will help us address various health issues as well.
Now, the football season has started and it is important to think more about making changes to motivate people to go to stadia. Different activities could be introduced during the half time to attract spectators. In other words, professional football should really be professional and be able to cover all the expenses without relying on the government.
Written by Abdulateef Al-Mulhim. Rio Olympics: Nothing to Rejoice About reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al-Mulhim.