In 2018, research by the General Sports Authority (GSA) showed that there was a significant increase in the number of Saudis embracing sports and exercise and trying to get healthy. Over a year later and that trend hasn’t slowed down, with Saudi Arabian women taking the lead, engaging in exercising and physical activity, this time in a big way through a new all-women cycling race series held in Jeddah, Riyadh, and Al-Khobar.
The cycling series saw the participation of over 1,000 women and was organized by the Saudi Sports for All Federation (SFA) and supported by the Saudi Cycling Federation. This was the first time a race of this magnitude was staged in Saudi Arabia, in an attempt to motivate women to participate in sports and pursue a more active way of life. Cycling in particular is growing in Saudi Arabia, with various races and cycling groups popping up in major cities across the Kingdom. According to Saudi Gazette, official figures showing that 1.1% of the population cycle on a weekly basis, 32% of those cyclers are women.
This race and others like it reflect the societal changes in culture and attitudes in Saudi Arabia led by Vision 2030, the Kingdom’s ambitious plan to transform its economy and society, as well as the increased support of Saudi women. This transformative period in Saudi history with regards to health and wellness has been particularly growing over the past two years, following a wave of reforms and keep appointments made.
In October 2017, Princess Reema Bint Bandar Bin Sultan was appointed President of a Saudi Federation for Community Sports, becoming the first woman in the Kingdom to lead a federation covering sporting activities for both men and women. Throughout her career and before becoming the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States, the Princess worked diligently to increase female participation in sports in Saudi Arabia.
In April 2018, Saudi Arabia then announced 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, part of Saudi Arabia’s tribute to World Health Day 2018.
The year after that, 25 Saudi women from the Jeddah Women Cyclist group continued this culture of women conquering the city’s streets by bike. Donning cycling helmets and kneecaps over their sports abayas, members of the group are often found riding on the newly built cycling track along Jeddah’s stunning Red Sea coastline.