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This past weekend my wife and I along with several family members flew to the capital city of Riyadh from Jeddah to root for our niece Lina Almaeena whose female basketball club, Jeddah United, managed to secure a berth in the finals.

The awards that lay ahead were the gold medals and the glittering prize of one million riyals to the winning team.

The Saudi Games kicked off from 27 October to 7 November 2022, in Riyadh city with the principal vision to provide a platform for Saudi athletes to excel to their best potential, and inspire Saudi youth through sports and demonstrate the Kingdom's capabilities globally in hosting the largest events.

With the participation of more than 6000 athletes and 2,000 technical and administrative supervisors representing more than 200 clubs across the Kingdom, contestants are competing in 45 sports categories both as individuals and teams. Moreover, 5 games are dedicated to Paralympic sports.

Furthermore, the first-placed clubs are reported to receive SAR 1 million, SAR 350,000 for second-placed clubs, and SAR 100,000 for third-placed clubs.

Largest national sports event

The Games have become the largest national sports event in the history of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and have attracted a large following across the land.

Our interest in this particular event was to witness the culmination of over 18 years of hard work and perseverance against very formidable odds when my niece decided to take the challenge and form a sports club for women during an era when women were expected to be unseen and unheard of.

There were no gyms or clubs for women then, and nor were sports allowed in girls’ schools by law! Such were the strangleholds placed on Saudi women that eventually led to a rise in obesity and related diseases among inactive girls and women.

A quick look back into conditions just a few years ago would bring to mind the relentless attacks on the rights of women by extremists who sought to shape the Saudi culture according to their own twisted ideology. It was a time when no working woman was spared their wrath.

They stood firmly against the idea of women being employed in the professional field. Notwithstanding the fact that the country needed the cadre of its educated women to foster progress, such extremists had been an impediment to the progress of women, invariably using the veiled threat of religion against such women.

There were also been some derisive comments on the different types of cloaks (Abayas) women use to cover themselves. It would have been easy to have given up in the face of such odds, but fortunately, my niece persevered and managed to eventually license the first women’s sports club in the kingdom. Her basketball team in the finals in the biggest-ever national games was definitely something not to be missed.

The game itself was nerve-racking with the score see-sawing until the last few minutes but then came success. Her team won and finally, my niece reached the pinnacle of triumph after all the years of hard work and sacrifices.

There is much to thank for being around in today’s Saudi Arabia Image Credit: Gulf News

Kingdom's decisive actions

Suffice to say it would not have been dreamt of let alone possible was it not for the decisive actions of King Salman bin Abdulaziz and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, popularly known as MBS who brought in their vision for a progressive future through Vision 2030.

We celebrated late into the night going over every shot and every score. Our euphoria carried on through the next day on our return journey back to Jeddah. The only blot during this whole trip was having to wait for more than 25 minutes in the taxiway upon arrival as there was no marshaling crew in sight.

Apparently, it was a shift change and nobody bothered to cover arrivals. Insult was added to injury when we were offloaded into buses and driven around the expanse of the airport for another 20 minutes before we made our way into the terminal.

However, as we loaded ourselves into the vehicle to take us home, we could not help but marvel at the rapid changes this country is going through, a transformation that could not have been dreamt of just a few years ago. Congratulations to my niece Lina and all those other females that never gave up on their dreams.

Indeed, there is much to thank for being around in today’s Saudi Arabia.

Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi sociopolitical commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena