SAUDI ARABIA - Tourism
President, Saudi Sports for All Federation
Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal Al Saud serves as the President of SFA, driving an initiative that unifies various sports and further builds upon the Kingdom’s dedication to a healthy and active citizenry. He was appointed to the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee Board of Directors in 2021 and continues to serve as a board member on other wellness-related federation boards in the Kingdom.
TBY talks to Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal Al Saud, President of Saudi Sports for All Federation, about community participation, recent achievements, and increasing competitiveness.
Saudi Vision 2030 aims to increase the scale of community participation in sports from 13 to 40% by 2030. How are you working to spread awareness about the benefits of sports and what specific sports and disciplines have you targeted to engage the highest number of individuals in the sport industry?
The Saudi SFA works on a few different fronts: awareness and education, developing or enhancing infrastructure to quality opportunities at suitable facilities, and, finally, on a programmatic basis with on-ground activations. The SFA works closely with the Ministry of Sports and the Quality of Life program to bring health and wellness to life; rather than just being an intangible goal. We want to catalyze people on an everyday basis, eventually creating a habitual approach to being consistently active and, as a result, healthier and happier. I see this in my own life: the more active I am, the better every day seems—our Vision 2030 goals, broken down to human scale, is exactly about that and it is meant to address all Saudi society. One way we are doing this is by providing access to educational facilities and programs like neighborhood clubs, summer camps, physical activity tests at schools, and an online teacher toolkit called Schools on the Move. All of these programs are shared through our social channels, our app, and our website—the more people that get involved, the better. Bring your families, bring your friends, join us with colleagues—we want to see everyone you know join us for one movement: a healthy and active community. One of our strategies is bringing fitness to where the people are. We’ve partnered with malls, including Arabian Centers, Riyadh Chamber, and Alothaim Malls, to activate walking tracks and fitness challenges. Other spaces like parks are also used to support physical activity and have hosted programs like Family Activity Days. We are regularly staging on-ground programs for all ages and abilities. Some of our most popular live events include Spartan Race and Riyadh Marathon. Others, like our cricket tournament, SandClash, and the Lifestyle Enhancement Conference, are staged in collaboration or with our sponsorship and guidance. We also help to empower women to take control of their health with dedicated programs such as the community-level Women’s Football League, Global Goals World Cup, and our Women’s Fitness Festival. With all of the programs and activations I have mentioned and many more, we reached an unprecedented number of people in Saudi. General Authority for Statistics research shows that 48.2% of people across the country now practice physical and sporting activities at least 30 minutes weekly, and this is a massive achievement as it the SFA’s Vision 2030 target.
Can you share with our readers the main highlights achieved by Sports for All?
With the support and close guidance of the Ministry of Sports and the Quality of Life program, we have exceeded our targets. That’s the official way of stating what we’ve achieved. The unofficial way to describe it? We have gotten all segments of Saudi society up and active, and we have turned participants into advocates. We are proud to be the team motivating people across the country daily. We talk to them directly through our channels—we participate alongside them at our events and they are us and we are them. This is why we have been so effective. For some actual numbers, through our Step Together virtual walk-run marathons in 2021, we saw more than 8,750 participants across just the first four challenges. Move to Game, launched jointly with Saudi Esports Federation, combined physical sport challenges with gaming, attracted more than 151,000 participants. In 2020, we launched the community Women’s Football League in Riyadh, Jeddah, and Dammam. And we also staged the Global Goals World Cup in Saudi for the first time ever that saw teams of women adopt a Sustainable Development Goal and form football teams to compete against other Saudi teams, and then visiting foreign teams. The SFA’s digital approach has also been essential to achieving our goal of encouraging regular physical activity participation. The SFA App allows people to access real-time information on health and wellness, events for all fitness levels, and how they can participate and facilitate community sports group success and growth. The key functions are allowing people from all over the country to join SFA public challenges, and create their own challenges, effectively turning all users into prospective fitness event creators.
How would you assess the existing network of sports facilities available in the Kingdom and how are you working with other institutions towards upgrading the current infrastructure?
The government and private developers are all allocating impressive budgets toward building up our existing sports infrastructure. Saudi has a few advantages in this realm: we have an abundance of space, the funds, and the impetus to really create an unparalleled sport experience for all of Saudi society. If you want to get active, we want to find a way to help you. We’re always working toward more facilities and more ways to turn existing spaces into hubs for wellness. One example is activating school spaces after hours; this creates community, and really allows to connect on so many levels. Partnerships are also essential to achieving our objectives. At SFA, we see global and local partnerships as key to bolstering a wellness ecosystem to support and create new avenues that boost participation in physical activity. SFA’s partnerships have enabled us to create programs that have increased access to sports and physical activities for all ages and abilities. One notable partnership was with the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs and Housing to collaborate on activating parks and public spaces in Riyadh, Al-Khobar, and Abha by introducing a range of multi-sport and running and walking programs and equipment rentals, and community academies.
What has to be done to increase and to boost the competitiveness of the local sports society among the regional and international arena?
To boost numbers, we need to pump time, energy, and material resources into supporting community sports; this is exactly what we do at SFA. Hearing about our programs is probably the best way to explain what exactly we do to engage large numbers of people. One example is our collaboration with the Cricket Federation to launch the National Cricket Championship across 11 cities in the Kingdom in 2021; we had more than 363 teams as part of our programs catering to expats. Another example is our partnership with the Neighborhoods League of Football to launch a football competition open to community level players aged 18 years and above, with a special league for those 35 years old and above. Keeping with the football successes, in 2021 we hosted the GGWCUP, an all-women’s soccer tournament made up of 26 teams from across the Kingdom. Team Kafo from the Kingdom won the Saudi tournament, and went on to participate in the finals in Iceland and took second place. It’s important to mention that we also support and stage events that cater to individual sports—like cycling, running, swimming, CrossFit, and many more. One of the most popular “niche” sports that was taking off in Saudi during the beginning of the pandemic was jump rope—you wouldn’t believe the amount of social media content coming our way with people doing amazingly difficult jump rope workouts. Really inspiring videos!
What are the main targets that set in your agenda and what are your short-term priorities?
Everything SFA does is aligned with Vision 2030. Going forward, we want to flesh out more partnerships with the public and private sector for enhanced opportunities and increased awareness. We want to ensure that we are coaching children up to meet the World Health Organization recommendations of 60 minutes of daily physical activity, by providing quality programs both inside and outside school. We also aim to provide opportunities to our young adults inside and outside the university and promote the social aspect of physical activity. There are so many benefits to participation; not the least of which is improved mental health and improved life satisfaction. On the workplace front, we are looking to incentivize physical activity in the workplace and support community and home programs. That all being said, we will continue to promote the health benefits of physical activity and provide suitable programs for the adult population – if you are willing, we will find a way to engage you. Join our healthy, active community online and see what we’re up to. Before you know it, we will have you moving!
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