RIYADH, November 13, 2017 – History was made this weekend when Saudi Arabia hosted the first women’s basketball tournament– the Mazda Cup – in yet another move to give women more freedom. The event, attended by an estimated 3,000 women, was held at King Abdullah Sports City in the Red Sea city of Jeddah.
The tournament, organised with the support of General Sports Authority (GSA) and the Ministry of Health, brought together local teams such as the Braves, Jeddah United, Dar Al Hekma University, University of Business and Technology, DFAC, and Shoot For A Cause to raise awareness about breast cancer.
“It is a historical event, as it is first such event to have taken place in the Kingdom where women got an opportunity to participate in a professional sport tournament in this country,” said Nora Al Jundi, an organiser.
“It was exciting to see the teams being cheered loudly by spectators. Now we are keen to see what happens next. Each day, we are realising that we have much more scope to contribute to the country than what we used to do. This is our time, a time we must seize to succeed,” she said.
Proceeds from ticket sales will go to health clinics to purchase equipment for early detection of breast cancer and to funding a breast-cancer awareness campaign targeting women under 40 years in the Kingdom who are most vulnerable, according to Lina Al Maeena, a Shura Council member and founder of Jeddah United Sports Company.
Dina Arif, the creator of the Doodle for a Cause initiative on breast cancer, who is one of the organisers of the event, was delighted that the entire stadium was run by women for the six-hour duration of the event. “From technicians and DJs to security and referees – they were all women,” she said.
Dr Manal Shams, head of the Health Education Department at the Ministry of Health, felt what she called a ‘high-voltage energy’ among participants as well as spectators. “The loud cheers that came from the crowds was extremely energising,” she said. “The large number of spectators and the enthusiasm they showed made the event more successful than we anticipated.”
Her remarks were echoed by Al Jundi, who said she was overwhelmed to see the response and what she said was the wonderful spirit of competition among university students. “It was heartening to watch people enjoy the games and experience a sport the way they should.”
At the venue, there were booths offering free screening and health advice to women. The Ministry of Health also set up centres that offered various examinations.
“So, the event served two purposes: health education for women and encouraging women to maintain a healthy lifestyle,” Dr Shams said. “Women were also exposed to other forms of exercises that they can do in this country.”
Marriam Mossalli, owner of Niche Arabia, the company that developed and executed the first public Female Sports Day at King Abdullah Sports City last year, said: “These types of activities demonstrate not only the eagerness and ability of Saudi women to come together under a common cause, but also our willingness to speak up about women’s health openly.”
Sports for women in Saudi Arabia are on the rise, with Riyadh gearing up to host the first Saudi Women’s Masters professional squash tournament this month. These events come on the heels of the Kingdom announcing that women would be allowed into major sport stadiums in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam from next year. The Ministry of Education said in July that female students would take physical education classes beginning next year.
In October, a princess was named the head of a Saudi sport federation, the first time for a woman to occupy such a post in the Kingdom, in a sign of reform as part of the Vision 2030 strategy that mandates increased participation of women in public life. GSA Chairman Turki bin Abdul Mohsen Al-Asheikh issued a decree appointing Princess Reema bint Bandar as President of the Saudi Federation of Mass Participation, which is mandated with overseeing men’s and women’s sporting activities. Princess Reema also serves as GSA Vice President for Planning and Development.
In a move that paves the way for easier access to sports facilities for women in Saudi Arabia, the GSA announced in July the launch of a new e-licensing process for gyms and fitness centres. The system that will be rolled out through the GSA website, creates an official, legal pathway for the licensing of women’s gyms and fitness centres.