Sara Mokhtar, Saudi karate instructor
Earlier this month, Taif University announced that it will begin offering courses in football, basketball, and karate for its female students. A week later, the results are in: hundreds of the university’s female students have signed up for a wide range of sports courses. As reported by Saudi Gazette, almost 1,130 students have registered, with 877 girl students registering for karate, 104 for football, 14 for lawn tennis, and 132 basketball. In addition, the university announced in a statement that as many as 550 students have also joined the nutrition program, 360 the diet program, and 320 physiotherapy training.
Undersecretary of the deanship of students’ affairs, Amal Ashour, explained that these sport programs are aimed at encouraging and nurturing female sporting talent, as well as establish individual and group teams to participate in various competitions. She also said the deanship plans to organize competitions in racing, chess, football, handball, table tennis, lawn tennis, billiards, and others, while pointing out that the university currently has five soccer and six basketball teams consisting of female students from various colleges.
Taif University has been making headlines since the start of 2019 for its progressive and inclusive programs. In mid-January, it announced the opening of Saudi Arabia’s first music institute offering music courses led by top professional instructors to both women and men. The courses range from singing, to poetry, and instruction on playing musical instruments.
In 2017, Saudi Arabia made a key appointment that has largely shaped its efforts to create a more inclusive and nurturing environment for girls and women in sports: it assigned Princess Reema Bint Bandar as head of the Saudi Federation for Community Sports (SFCS), making her the first woman in the Kingdom to take on such an important role. The Princess has always been a strong advocate for female participation in sports and dedicates her time to developing a more inclusive sports environment for women.
Aside from leadership changes, the shift towards encouraging women to take up sports has been palpable on the ground as well. For instance, in 2018, Saudi Arabia hosted its first-ever 10-kilometer cycling race for women, which took place in the Red Sea city of Jeddah and saw 30 female cyclists compete as part of the “Be Active” initiative, as well as a women-only run that same year, garnering support from across the Kingdom.