Friday, April 12, 2024
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On Saturday night, top figures from Saudi sports attended the launch of the Berlin 2023 Special Olympics in a show of support for the Kingdom’s 130-strong delegation.

Saudi Arabia’s largest Special Olympics contingent since the 1995 Games in New Haven, Connecticut, is made up of 85 male and female athletes who will take part in 15 sports.

Present at the opening ceremony in the German capital was Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, the Saudi minister of sports and president of the Union of Arab National Olympic Committees, who attended on behalf of King Salman.

Also showing their support at the city’s Olympic Stadium were Prince Fahd bin Jalawi bin Abdulaziz bin Musaed, vice president of the Saudi Arabian Olympic and Paralympic Committee, and Prince Khaled bin Al-Waleed bin Talal, president of the Saudi Sports for All Federation.

Prince Khaled spoke to Arab News exclusively about the Special Olympics and their importance to Saudi Arabia’s sporting landscape.

Why are the Special Olympics so important for Saudi sports?

I would, first of all, like to talk about the pride I feel personally, and for the SFA as a whole, in joining the Saudi Arabian Olympic and Paralympic Committee and the Ministry of Sport for the Berlin 2023 Games. We are eager to support our athletes here during the Special Olympics.

The Special Olympics draw attention to how physical activity can change lives for the better; this mirrors our own value system. The SFA, focused on community, seeks to inspire people of all ages and abilities to engage in physical activity, which changes lives.

With the Kingdom making significant strides over the years to transform its rapidly growing society, Saudi Arabia’s participation in the Special Olympics is important, timely and representative of where and who we are as a nation.

The focus on inclusion of all abilities is of the utmost importance to us, as we are always working to raise awareness and support more people from all walks of life to enjoy their favorite sports and physical activities.

What role does the SFA play in elite sporting events, such as the Special Olympics?

As the main body responsible for developing community sports, the SFA is mandated to work “together towards a healthy active community,” or raise participation numbers across the country. The emphasis here is on the words “together” and “community.”

In order to truly engage and cater to all people in Saudi, we must ensure that the needs of all members of society are recognized and met.

We hope that seeing our athletes compete globally will inspire more people across the country to try new activities.

The more participation we have, the likelier we are to funnel athletes into elite participation. We want every school, every club, everywhere to have more and more physical activities, and thus, more future Olympians and elite athletes.

Why did you and the SFA delegation decide to go to Berlin for the Games?

With Saudi Arabia taking its largest Special Olympics delegation in the history of its participation, the SFA sent representation to Berlin for the Games in support of the Kingdom’s efforts on the global sports stage.

Given our experience hosting international tournaments, launching nation- and region-wide events, and promoting diversity and inclusion, we believed we could serve as a knowledgeable and valued partner to the Saudi delegation.

We also wanted to showcase the progress the Kingdom has made over the past few years to become the region’s leading sports destination.

How does the current mass participation landscape in Saudi create more opportunities for sports as a business?

Saudi is becoming what we have all been working toward — a leading global sports hub. You would not believe how exciting it is on the ground at SFA events; the energy is in the air. People of all ages and abilities are engaged and inspired. Marathons are a good example of that.

If we go further back and talk about actual metrics, in 2021 alone, we launched and organized over 27 initiatives and activities, including community programs, National Day engagements and sports championships. These were attended by more than 4 million participants.

We also launched the first-ever Global Goals World Cup in Saudi Arabia. A football tournament dedicated to women and girls, the Global Goals World Cup was created to empower female football fans and players across the Kingdom, providing them a platform to immerse themselves in their passion for the sport while advocating for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. These events speak to the growth of sports in Saudi Arabia and how accessible physical activities have become.

According to the General Authority for Statistics’ latest Household Sports Practice Survey, 38.3 percent of females in the Kingdom now participate in various forms of weekly exercise.

There are 700 gyms dedicated to females and 500 community sports groups. This ensures inclusivity in sports and physical activities across the Kingdom, and it ensures that the business of sports continues booming, from the supply chain to events and onward.

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