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Saudi sports exhibition highlights importance of education, training
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 07 - 09 - 2012

Razan Baker
Saudi Gazette

LONDON – Helping the education sector achieve its goals of promoting physical activity and sports in the Kingdom's schools is a must to ensure that elite talented athletes emerge at early ages, said Prince Nawaf bin Mohammed, President of the Saudi Arabian Athletics Federation, at the Arab Sports Through Saudi Eyes exhibition held at Chelsea Football Club on the sidelines of the London 2012 Olympic Games.
During the exhibition, Prince Nawaf and sports fans talked about how to make physical activity and sports an integral part of one's daily life.
Other topics that were discussed included sports and health; children and the development of sports from tradition to modernity; sports and special needs; sports and media; sports and education; sports and Arab Olympic athletes; and sports at the Saudi Students Clubs in the UK & Ireland (SSCUK&I).
“School sports and sports and education is the key to reaching the Olympics,” said Hadi Souan Al-Somayli, Saudi silver medalist at the Sydney Olympics in the 400m hurdles during his interview at the exhibition.
“When it comes to Olympic failure, it is not necessarily the athlete's fault. It is always important to have a suitable program to deliver for Olympians and sports officials should monitor this program to ensure its success starting from early, school-going stages. The program itself hence should be continuously restructured,” he added.
Since sports and education was a high concern, Prince Faisal Bin Abdullah, Minister of Education and chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Saudi Equestrian Fund, was the first sponsor of the event, as confirmed by Prince Bader Bin Saud, president of the SSCUK&I and head of the event's organizing committee.
“Around 30 volunteers participated in this event, among them Saudis and Arabs had a goal to be part of the Olympic festival and to support the Arab region's involvement in the Olympics. Despite the short notice, the idea of the event was immediately welcomed by Prince Nawaf Bin Faisal, president of Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee and the Union of Arab National Olympic Committees (UANOC), and Sami Al-Nohait, general director at King Abdulaziz Arabian Horse Center at Dirab,” said Prince Bader.
Almamoun Alshingiti, Director of Strategic Development of School Sports which runs under the umbrella of the Saudi Ministry of Education and the King Abdullah Project for Education Development (Tatweer), called for a national school strategy that fully incorporates sports in school curricula.
“We need a strategy to provide us a clear pathway to where we should be going. We also need an implementation plan that is long term we must professionalize school sports and launch strong programs that cater to our students' needs which are health, recreation and competition based,” he said.
“This is what we are starting this academic year with the cooperation of different sectors including the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee. By focusing on football and athletics, we will have a strong starting point,” he added.
During the exhibition, attendees were introduced to two new groups that seek to promote sports in the Arab world: the International Society of Sports Sciences in the Arab World (I3SAW) which is made of scientists and specialists who share the value of supporting, developing and advancing sports sciences in the Arab World, and the Arab Olympic Academy Committee, which runs under the UANOC and focuses on sports development through the academic field of sport sciences.
According to an initial data base initiated by I3SAW, there are 65 colleges of sport sciences in 22 Arab countries, the majority of which are located in Iraq (20), followed by Egypt (17). In the same vein, the UANOC's committee announced its plans to run various sports academic conferences, workshops, exchange programs in sports, and surveys among Arab athletes during future competitions.
Helping explain some of the problems governments and organizations often face when promoting sports was a book by Mahfoud Amara, lecturer in sport policy and management at Loughborough University. Titled “Sport, Politics and Society in the Arab World”, the book, which was distributed to attendees, emphasizes that, “The Muslim world, has on one hand, accepted modern sport as symbol of modernization in Muslim societies and as privileged tool in nation-state building; but on the other hand many Muslims – particularly representatives of Islamist movements – are wary of modern sport as symbol of secularism and as deviation from the authentic societal concerns of the Ummah (the nation of Muslim believers).”
One booth at the exhibition that contributed to a key theme, sports and education, was the Children and Sports Development from Tradition to Modernity booth. Abeer Bin Ali, a postgraduate researcher at the School of Education (Childhood) at Brunel University, contributed to the theme by producing a story for children that showed the importance of physical activity and trying out different sports. Using the story of Abdulrahman Al-Hamdan, world swimming champion with special needs, Bin Ali sought to inspire children to take up sports.
The move toward developing sports and education extends from Saudi Arabia to the Arab region and this raised a debate among attendees with the majority agreeing that there is a strong desire to improve both in the Arab region. The same conclusion was reached by Christian Wacker, Head of Research at Qatar Olympic & Sports Museum to be inaugurated in 2013, during his presentation at the First International Colloquium of Olympics Studies and Research Centers (OSCS) held at Loughborough University from July 25-26. Although there are 31 Olympic Studies Centers in the world, none of them are in the Arab region. Experts have thus suggested opening the door for research in Middle Eastern and North African countries to support sports and education.
Despite the absence of Olympic Studies Centers in the Arab region, general interest seems to be drifting toward introducing sports and education through Olympic museums such as the upcoming Qatar Olympic & Sports Museum, Museum of the Yemen Olympic Committee, the Olympic Experience Museum in Tel Aviv, and the Olympic Exhibitions of the Egyptian Sports Museum.
The interest in launching sports museums also extends to women. In Jordan, for example, The Children's Museum of Jordan, a non-profit educational initiative by Queen Rania Al-Abdullah, is the first informal, hands-on learning environment in the Kingdom. Similarly, the Qatar Children's Museum, to be opened under the patronage of Sheikha Al Mayassa Bint Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, Chairperson of the Board of Trustees - Qatar Museums Authority. And the oldest, the Child Museum of Cairo, was conceived by the former Egyptian first lady, Suzanne Mubarak in 1985.

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