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
- "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
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
- 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
- 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.