Sports And Recreation
Both traditional and modern sports are popular in Saudi Arabia. The people of the Arabian Peninsula
have enjoyed sports for thousands of years, including horse and camel racing, falconry and hunting
with hounds. Today, modern sports are also popular – especially soccer.
A special effort has been made to encourage sports and make them accessible to the public.
Hundreds of facilities have been established throughout the Kingdom so that all Saudis can
exercise regularly or enjoy popular spectator sports.
In addition, all levels of the Saudi educational system – from kindergarten through
university – emphasize the importance of sports.
Soccer is by far the most popular modern sport in Saudi Arabia. Saudis of all ages have taken the
game to heart, from children scrimmaging on playgrounds to international matches battled out in
spectacular modern stadiums.
There is a professional Saudi soccer league that is wildly popular among Saudis – friends and
families often gather to cheer on their favorite teams, both on television and in stadiums. The
highlight of the Saudi soccer league is its championship tournament known as the King’s Cup. Fans
also avidly follow the Saudi Arabian national soccer team in World Cup competition.
In addition to soccer, other organized sports have gained a following among Saudis, including
volleyball, gymnastics, swimming and basketball.
Saudi Arabia has a number of first-class golf courses. American expatriates introduced golf to
Saudi Arabia in the late 1940s when they created a course in the sand near Dhahran. They mixed oil
with the sand to keep the course from blowing away, a method that is still used in the Kingdom.
Today, there are lush, green courses in that look like they belong in the tropics.
The Kingdom has a number of different types of sports facilities, ranging from major sports
neighborhood facilities and clubs.
The huge sports complexes, called Sports Cities, are located in large population centers. Each
has a stadium that can seat between 10,000 and 60,000 people, an indoor stadium seating 5,000,
Olympic-size swimming pools, indoor and outdoor courts, playgrounds, conference halls, and sports
Smaller than the Sports Cities, neighborhood sports facilities and playgrounds were built in
areas so that young Saudis can play sports like basketball and volleyball near their homes. These
centers offer parks, open spaces, and facilities for indoor activities.
Local sports clubs are located in all cities and towns. They offer a range of facilities for
sports, including soccer fields, indoor and outdoor courts, swimming pools, playgrounds,
areas and accommodations for youth camps. These clubs organize local events throughout the year.
Development of Sports
The introduction of a national education system in the 1950s was the first step in the development
modern sports in Saudi Arabia. An integral part of the education system, sports spread throughout
country as new schools were built in large cities and small towns alike.
The development of sports acquired momentum with the introduction of the First Development
(1970-74). At the time, a decision was made to establish a nationwide network of sports
could be enjoyed and used by all. The plan called for the construction of sports and
facilities, the establishment of recreational programs and the creation of clubs for the
A further step in encouraging public participation in sporting activities was taken in
1974 with the
establishment of the General Presidency of Youth Welfare (GPYW). Its mandate is to make
recreational and cultural facilities and events accessible to young Saudis throughout the
country and to
get as many people interested and involved in these activities as possible.
The presidency’s activities complement those of the Ministry of Education, which is responsible for
maintaining physical education programs within the school system, and the Ministry of Higher
which oversees sports programs at Saudi Arabia’s universities and colleges. Today, schools, colleges
universities emphasize sports as an integral part of their curriculum.
Outside the country’s educational system, the GPYW is the primary provider of sports facilities
programs. With almost unlimited moral and material support from Saudi leaders, the GPYW has put into
place a formidable sports structure and program that covers the entire country. Based on studies on
population density and needs in various parts of the Kingdom, the GPYW initiated a three-tier
The first provides for the establishment of huge sports complexes — called Sports Cities — in
population centers. These gigantic facilities are scattered throughout Saudi Arabia, and more are
built. Each has a multipurpose stadium with a seating capacity of between 10,000 and 60,000, a
5,000-seat indoor stadium, Olympic-size swimming pools, indoor and outdoor courts and playgrounds,
cafeterias, halls for conferences and clinics for sports medicine.
The second tier of the GPYW’s sports program concentrates on establishing smaller neighborhood
facilities and playgrounds in large urban centers where young Saudis can play basketball, volleyball
other sports near their homes. In addition to parks and open spaces, these centers also have
where indoor recreational activities can be arranged.
The third tier focuses on making sports facilities available in smaller population centers by
establishing Sports Clubs in all cities and towns. Although not as large as the Sports Cities, these
clubs meet the needs of residents of towns and villages. Differing in size according to the number
residents of the town, the clubs offer a range of facilities for different sports, including soccer
fields, indoor and outdoor courts, swimming pools, playgrounds, recreational areas and
for youth camps.
Sports training programs in a diverse range of fields from archery to soccer are available to
every age at the country’s sports facilities, large and small. Though open to all, they are intended
introduce young Saudis to various sporting activities and offer training at different levels. In
addition to building sports facilities, the GPYW has also introduced programs to encourage their use
the general public. To achieve that objective, it has introduced a program of annual events on the
and national levels at all its facilities. These include competition in local leagues, ‘Sports for
gatherings and ‘Folk Games Days’.
GPYW sports clubs organize neighborhood and local sporting events throughout the year. The more
accomplished athletes are sent by these clubs to participate in the 200 or so annual district and
national sports events organized by the GPYW. Athletes who excel at these events are enrolled in
training camps for serious local and national competition. Twenty youth sports camps throughout the
country host thousands of young Saudis every year. Equipped with modern sleeping, dining, sports and
recreational facilities, they offer sports training in an atmosphere that emphasizes Saudi Arabia’s
The best young athletes emerging from these programs are then selected for intensive training
represent Saudi Arabia in international events. The Kingdom’s 18 sports federations, which are
supervised by the GPYW, organize leagues and tournaments for these athletes to sharpen their skills.
Additionally, athletes and teams attend more than 40 sporting events outside the country each year
participate in major international sporting events inside the Kingdom.
Saudis enjoy a wide range of leisure activities. Families can relax at hundreds of parks, campsites,
picnic grounds and other facilities throughout the country.
Long stretches of coast and spectacular coral reefs make water sports such as snorkeling and
surfing easily accessible. In addition, the Kingdom has established a network of national parks and
preserves so that visitors can observe protected wildlife and ecosystems.
The crown jewel of Saudi Arabia’s national parks system is the 1.1 million acre Asir National
Visitors can hike, camp, climb hills and other outdoor activities in this cool, green
Kingdom’s largest preserve is Al-Khunfah, where visitors can take in spectacular views and
wildlife such as gazelles and oryx in their natural habitat.
In the cities, people can relax in hundreds of urban parks. Riyadh alone – which means
Arabic – has 50 public parks. The waterfront corniches of Jeddah and Dammam are also popular
picnics, swimming, fishing and other watersports.
Camping is a popular activity among Saudis. Families pitch tents in the middle of the desert, along
coast or in one of the Kingdom’s parks, and enjoy the beauty of nature. These camping trips are
during the Eid holidays and for family reunions, especially after the rainy season when the desert
Saudi Arabia is home to a variety of animals include the Arabian Oryx, a type of antelope native to
Arabian Peninsula that roams freely in Saudi Arabia’s large desert.
Other animals found in the Kingdom include marine life, gazelles, the ibex (a type of wild
goat) the bustard, and the swift saluki hound, a type of dog named for an ancient city in southern
Arabia. The saluki is generally considered to be the world’s oldest domesticated dog.
The famous purebred Arabian horse is one of the most popular breeds in the world, with a bloodline
dates back thousands of years. The Arabian’s fine shape and extraordinary stamina and speed make it
ideal for racing and breeding.
There are also many camels in Saudi Arabia. They have been used as a means of transportation
thousands of years. Today, camel racing is a popular sport.
Saudi Arabia has taken major steps to preserve its native wild and marine life and established
both on land and in the ocean off the Saudi coast.
Saudi Arabia’s extensive sports program has brought about not only a quantitative growth of sports,
also a dramatic qualitative improvement. The performance of Saudi athletes has improved steadily
the Kingdom joined the International Olympic Committee in 1965.
Since the early 1980s, Saudi athletes have proudly represented the Kingdom in an increasing
regional and international competitions. The Saudi soccer team qualified for its first appearance in
1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.
In 1989, Saudi Arabia hosted the fifth World Youth Soccer Cup Championship, won the
received a special commendation from FIFA, the international soccer federation, for the
manner in which it has organized the event.
In 1994, the Saudi national soccer team represented Asia at the World Cup finals in the
reached the second round, and received accolades for their playing. Saudi Arabia continues
participate in the World Cup every four years.
The Kingdom also participated in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, and the 2000 Olympics in
Australia, with competitors in the equestrian, wrestling, and track and field events as well
In 2006, Saudi Arabia won the Learning Disability World Cup for soccer in Leverkusen, Germany.
Saudi Arabia is also home to several Little League baseball teams, one of which has qualified over a
dozen times for the Little League Baseball World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.