Saudi women and weightlifting



THE number of Saudi girls practicing weightlifting has increased lately, whether at homes or in specialized gyms. This is after many years of fear and superstition in our society that practicing weightlifting will make the girls aggressive.

Through personal observation and research, I discerned that those who were against the idea were not objecting to weightlifting alone but to women sports in general.

These people were indeed promoting obesity. This is how women in the previous generation were raised, separated from the concept of fitness and health.

These women lived under an illusion. Men who once praised them did not hesitate to marry other woman once they lost their fitness and shape and gained weight after giving births. These men had no compunction in searching for the fit and healthy second wife, who will soon join the club of the first wives and so on. Yes, there were ignorant minds that saw the value of a woman in her weight and they did not hesitate to disrespect her and insult her.

Throughout the year I was thinking how this superstition about women sports spread in the generation of the 80s. Indeed women of that generation are slowly regaining their health and becoming part of the decision-making process.

I believe awareness about the importance of health and sport is growing. Recently, the General Sports Authority announced that people practicing sports in Saudi Arabia increased by 23 percent in 2018, compared with the past. There is a good understanding of the importance of sport as a way of life among the new generation of young men and women. But what about the type of sports practiced? What about nutrition?

Sadly, girls are the ones suffering. There is a shortage of women›s gyms. There is shortage of qualified fitness trainers. It is not enough to open a hall, install some equipment and then call it a gym. I think we are taking slow and reluctant steps toward increasing health awareness.

What shocks more is the over-exaggerated membership fees charged by the fitness centers, whether for men or women. For women it is much more expensive. Here I want to ask: Why is the gym membership fee for a year SR10,000 or SR12,000 in Saudi Arabia, while in the UK it starts at SR5,000 and reaches a maximum of SR7,000 in gyms with specialist trainers.

The gyms in the UK are of high standard and operate 24/7, even during weekends and holidays. Where is the regulatory role of the Ministry of Commerce and Investment here?

Lifting weight is for sure an important physical activity, but it is practiced randomly here, despite its positive impact on body and mind. The same is the case with boxing and self defense sports. Is anyone following up with these sports? What is the role of the Health Ministry? I believe that the recent campaign by the ministry on displaying the amount of calories on the menu cards in restaurants is one of the most successful campaigns in the history of the Saudi health. These are needed corrective steps. They even provided free links to increase awareness on calorie intake. I believe it should be more transparent and we need to discuss the issue of obesity.

A person will be shocked on the information of obesity in Saudi Arabia if he or she starts searching about it online to see the ratio and the number of deaths. Burning calories does not mean just a fit body. It also means preventing diseases and saving huge amounts on medical bills.

What one needs is to seek advice of a person who is specialized in nutrition and a qualified fitness trainer. Sadly, many people who have succeeded in losing weight are giving free fitness advice, which could put lives in danger because every fitness regimen does not suit all. If someone decides to live a healthy life, then he or she should seek advice from a specialist to determine how many calories they need to burn each day and the type of physical exercise they need to practice. They should also coordinate with trainers in gyms, despite the fact that they are rare, especially in women’s gyms. This will also open the door for new job opportunities in the profession.

Finally, the health of humans comes with awareness. We need to work on increasing this awareness among the Saudi citizens. It should start from understanding what one wants to be. Yes, your health, your role and your identity are one system, so be healthy.