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Eye of Riyadh
Sports | Sunday 6 May, 2018 10:04 am |

Saudi Arabia's changing attitude to health and fitness

Saudi citizens are getting to their feet and beginning to embrace sports and exercise as new research shows increasing numbers are trying to get healthy. 

In 2015 the General Sports Authority (GSA) conducted the first National Sports Survey and defined active people who participate in sports as “individuals who engage in a specific type of physical activity i.e. planned, structured, and repetitive for the main purpose of improving health and maintaining fitness, at least once a week.” 

The survey showed that only 13 per cent of Saudi citizens aged over 15 years old exercise at least once a week. Those findings were a wakeup call for the Kingdom and helped shape aggressive targets to support mass participation that were set in stone within the Vision 2030 plan.

In the first quarter of 2018, another National Sports Survey was carried out under the same conditions and using the same methods, tracking sporting participation at all levels, from those taking up walking a few times a week to improve their health or amateurs beginning to attend weekly classes or clubs to hardcore gym enthusiasts and committed sports people.

The previous figure of 13 per cent has now increased to 23 per cent helping the GSA beat its interim Vision 2030 target of getting 20 per cent of Saudis over 15 years old exercising by 2020. 

The GSA established the Mass Participation Federation, which is the main body responsible for increasing participation in sports in the Kingdom, to improve the sports landscape and provide more opportunities for all members of society including men, women, youth, elderly, persons with disabilities, nationals and ex-pats to participate in exercise. The GSA has also worked on several important initiatives over the past three years such as:

  • Work by the gym sector to expand their offering and services, including the opening and licensing of female-only gyms 
  • The delivery of regular events including for example the Riyadh Marathon with 12,000 runners, and major family events such as the FISE Activation in Jeddah with 150,000 participants
  • The support of hundreds of Community Sports Groups with over 11,000 members
  • Activation of Neighbourhood League of Football with over 30,000 players and 800 teams


His Excellency Turki Al Shaikh, the Chairman of the General Sports Authority, spoke about this achievement and said “Thanks to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdul Aziz, and the Crown Prince, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense, His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, continuous support to the sport sector in the Kingdom, this achievement was possible as this support has directly contributed to the successful development of the various sports fields and to the benefit of sports and society as a whole.”

His Royal Highness Prince Abdulaziz Bin Turki AlFaisal Al Saud, Vice Chairman of the General Sports Authority (GSA) said: “This result is huge motivator for us to even work harder to serve all different sports and physical activities. 

“This accomplishment is due to the collaborative efforts of all departments within GSA and other governmental stakeholders, these efforts have generated a positive reaction by the people of Saudi Arabia to better the quality of their lives, they realized the true benefits of sport to them and to all members of society.” 

Princess Reema bint Bander Al Saud, President of the Mass Participation Federation, said: “The improvements reflect the societal changes in culture and attitudes led by the Vision 2030 transformation and the support of Saudi women as a lot of women are now more open to engage in exercising and physical activity. 

“It’s important to recognise that this is a family movement. Men and women, boys and girls, young and old, are responding and are proving, as we believe at the GSA, that sport is for all.”

Saudi Arabia’s exercise levels have also been tracked in a separate piece of research published by GSTAT, Saudi’s General Authority for Statistics. Within its findings its data showed that 16.5 per cent of Saudis aged over 15 are active for at least 150 minutes per week.

Princess Reema said: ‘It’s promising that two separate and complimentary pieces of important research show that Saudi is on the move. It is welcome news, but this isn’t ‘mission accomplished, it’s the proof point to our work’.

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