By Dr. Fowziya Al-Bakr
SAUDI women started taking part in sports as early as the 1960s when they played football, basketball and volleyball. The year 2006 witnessed the opening of the first private sports academy for women in Jeddah. There are 26 women’s sports clubs across the Kingdom, which promote various sporting activities, including horse riding and football.
Women’s sports clubs have sprung up in the length and breadth of Saudi Arabia in recent years. Most of them are not licensed and charge exorbitant fees. It will be difficult for women having limited income to pay the annual subscriptions, which has reached as high as SR14,000, for joining these clubs.
While working in Boston, which is believed to be an expensive city to live in the US, the annual fee I paid to a sports club was just $60 while the fee for joining a yoga club did not exceed $20 a month.
We need sports like water and air because taking part in sports will strengthen our physical and psychological health. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “ The most beloved of people according to Allah is he who brings most benefit to people, and the most beloved of deeds according to Allah the Mighty, the Magnificent, is that you bring happiness to a fellow Muslim….”
Is there anything better than sports in inducing happiness to people. Scientific researches without exception have stressed the high impact of doing exercise on mental health apart from its physical benefits. The website of Healthline says: “Regular exercise can boost your confidence and improve your self-esteem. As your strength, skills and stamina increase through playing sports your self-image would improve as well.”
Team sports such as football, baseball and basketball are training grounds for leadership traits. Regular physical activity helps keep your key mental skills sharp as you age. This includes critical thinking, learning and good judgment. Exercise reduces the level of stress hormones and stimulates production of endorphins, which are natural mood lifters.
It also enhances self-confidence as a result of a balanced lifestyle and preservation of physical health and will reduce health problems such as obesity and exhaustion, which is widespread in our society.
It goes without saying that sports activities are the cornerstone of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, which envisions four out of 10 Saudi men and women as active athletes.
A study conducted by the obesity chair at King Saud University shows that one-third of Saudi society (70 percent of men and 75 percent of women) suffers from obesity.
More than 80 percent of type-2 diabetic patients in the Kingdom are obese. Saudi Arabia has been ranked third globally by World Health Organization in obesity prevalence. A study conducted by the executive bureau of the GCC Health Council showed that obesity-related deaths in the Kingdom reached 20,000 annually. It has been reported that more than 3.5 million Saudi children suffer from obesity.
Obesity has hit about 36 percent of Saudi population. Moreover, cases of heart diseases, hypertension and diabetes and heart blockage are growing among children due to excessive weight gain.
Moreover, the sports sector is a big industry, which is expected to offer limitless job opportunities for women if they are given proper education and training.
We don’t have accurate figures of women’s sports clubs in the Kingdom and many of them do not possess any license. The Sports Authority has allowed opening of sports clubs for women. Our universities and educational institutions should organize physical exercise programs for female students.
There is no intellectual and cultural justification for rejecting a proposal made by some women Shoura Council members to establish physical education colleges for girls. I believe that we have to convert some chairs in the consultative council that obstruct progress into a museum.
We hope that the young Saudi men and women would take up important social issues to expedite reforms and make greater achievements, like the successes achieved by the country’s young leadership.