Meet the Saudis making history at the Special Olympics

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The Saudi Arabia delegation arrived in the UAE earlier this month for the games.
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The Saudi Arabia delegation arrived in the UAE earlier this month for the games.
Updated 14 March 2019

Meet the Saudis making history at the Special Olympics

  • They will join thousands of athletes at World Games Abu Dhabi, the first to be held in the MENA region
  • And in another first, female athletes will be part of the Saudi delegation, which is participating in 10 sports

ABU DHABI: The athletes have landed, the symbolic torch has arrived, and hundreds of thousands of visitors have descended on the UAE capital as the Special Olympics World Games are set to start in Abu Dhabi on Thursday — the first time the event has been staged in the region in its 50-year history.

Between now and March 21, more than 7,500 athletes, representing more than 190 nations, will participate in 24 officially sanctioned Olympic-style sports throughout Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The Saudi Arabia delegation, which features female athletes for the first time since the country joined in 1994, arrived at Abu Dhabi International Airport earlier this month and will be participating in an array of sports including basketball, bowling, swimming and table tennis.

The Games will officially get underway with a traditional opening ceremony at Zayed Sports City Stadium on Thursday, where the Saudi athletes will join others in flying their country’s flags. A host of global superstars, including Avril Lavigne, Luis Fonsi, Hussain Al-Jassmi, Tamer Hosny, Assala Nasri and DJ Paul Oakenfold will perform in a ceremony that will be broadcast live to millions around the world.

Organizers of the event, the first to be staged in the Middle East and North Africa, hope to redefine the boundaries of what is possible for those living with disabilities, with the inclusion of people of determination with intellectual disabilities in every aspect of the event.  

Samia Siddiq, basketball

When Samia Siddiq found out that she would be representing Saudi Arabia in the Special Olympics World Games, her heart started beating very fast. 

“I was so happy,” she recalled with a smile. “So happy and excited, and I felt that there was an adventure waiting.”

Siddiq, who will be competing in basketball in the Games, said her love of sports started at the age of three when she was involved in swimming. This passion for sport grew, and she began bowling and playing hockey. 

“I love doing any kind of sport because I feel I can be active,” Siddiq said. With basketball, she loves the team aspect. “I feel empowered when I play. I like to run and I feel that there are people around me. It’s a team I can rely on and trust.” As she plays, she has a goal of getting the ball into the net. 

“I dribble and shoot and aim, and when it works I feel proud,” says Siddiq, a graduate of the Help Center in Jeddah. “When I score, I feel like I want to score more. It pushes me to do even more and do better for my team.” 

As for the Special Olympics, Siddiq cannot wait to be involved, she said with a grin. “I do hope to win, of course.” 

Described by those who know her as imaginative, talkative and good with children, Siddiq likes to spend her spare time with her family. “I talk to my brothers about vacations and what I’m doing. They always support me. I play with them, and we play hide-and-seek or games.” Her mother, she explained, is her biggest supporter and someone who always encourages her to do more. 

Abdulmalik Almuhayfith, roller skating 

When he’s perched on top of roller skates, speeding around corners or whipping through fast moves, Abdulmalik Almuhayfith doesn’t feel fear.

“I feel sort of relieved and comfortable — roller skating is like getting balanced and finding balance,”
Almuhayfith, an athlete with autism,” said. It is a sport in which he has been excelling at for years. During the Special Olympics in South Korea in 2013, Almuhayfith took home a gold medal. It’s one of his favorite memories. 

“My father was training me when my coach said that I would be participating in the Special Olympics,” recalls Almuhayfith. “Then during the Games, I won a gold medal, which gave me a level of happiness I can’t describe. One gold and one silver, and I was so happy.” He also took home a medal at the Special Olympics in Austria in 2017.

Almuhayfith lights up when talking about roller skating. Over the past four years, he has worked on improving his speed. 

For aspiring roller-skating athletes, Almuhayfith recommends pacing yourself. “You need to learn gradually, because this kind of sport requires time. Each athlete has to go slowly and work through the phases.”
He is particularly excited about these Special Olympics World Games. “I felt so happy that I qualified and so proud of it. I hope to win in Abu Dhabi, and to show the strength of the Arab world while representing Saudi Arabia.” 

Maan Alkhidhr, basketball

When Maan Alkhidhr is in his basketball team, he feels strong.

“Like there’s a sense of trust and harmony between all of us,” says the athlete. “I see my teammates playing in harmony and I want to give the best I can, and to do more so we reach the goal we’re all trying to reach.” 
It’s this team spirit and drive that will see the 25-year-old representing Saudi Arabia in the Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi. 

At the age of six months, Alkhidhr was diagnosed with Down Syndrome and a heart condition and given a life expectancy of 12 months. Now Alkhidhr is just months away from his 26th birthday. 

He was born and raised in the small town of Sakaka in the northern part of Saudi Arabia, His parents didn’t have access to facilities or school programs that were needed to support Alkhidhr’s condition. His mother educated herself to give her son the best help possible. She used to travel to Jeddah, and sometimes across the border to Jordan, to buy books that gave her guidance on how to support Alkhidhr. 

By the time he was seven, Alkhidhr had started swimming. He trained with his family cheering and swimming beside him. They are his greatest supporters. 

“My mother is always there for me. She hopes that I reach a good position and do better things,” says Alkhidhr with a smile. “With God’s will, I have reached this kind of sport, and the opportunities that basketball has provided me are many. I’m meeting more people from outside the country, I’m traveling more, and I’m making friends.” 

Faisal Algosaibi, swimming

When Faisal Algosaibi won his first gold medal in swimming at an international competition in Los Angeles in 2015, his father, Adel Algosaibi, felt stunned. Algosaibi’s name flashed on the arena’s board, and for a moment his father thought there must be some mistake. Of course, they had trained for it and they had hoped for it. But for it to happen was something else entirely. 

Then Algosaibi went on to win two more medals. “For me, at that moment, that’s when my life really started,” said his father. 

Now Algosaibi will be heading to the Special Olympics World Games on behalf of Saudi Arabia. He will be swimming while his father cheers from the sidelines. Together they make a powerful sporting duo, one with bonds strengthened through sport. 

Algosaibi, an athlete with Down syndrome, is often quiet — he didn’t start speaking until he was in his teens — but cheerful. 

Algosaibi began to swim when he was 16. “I don’t like swimming myself,” said his father. “But I learned to swim the best that I could, so that I could transfer what I know to him, and be his friend in swimming. Gradually I found out that he likes this sport.” 

Eventually, Algosaibi upgraded to a professional coach in Dammam. “Day by day, hour by hour, he improved,” his father said. 

All the practice led Algosaibi to a regional competition in Egypt in 2014, followed by an international competition in Los Angeles in 2015, and more competitions in Oman and Abu Dhabi. Over the years, Algosaibi has won 16 medals. His hope at the World Games is to earn even more. 

There are challenges, his father acknowledges. “Still society doesn’t understand individuals who face challenges, not yet. If we go to a shopping center, people are still looking at his face. So I’m trying to change it.” 

Part of this involves changing the equation. “I explained to Faisal that they are staring because they are proud of you and the medals you have won for your country. This has helped him understand and shift the sadness in his heart to happiness.” 

Juri Alquthmi, athletics 

Juri Alquthmi looks like an average lanky teenager. Yet this bubbly athlete will be representing Saudi Arabia at the Special Olympics World Games in athletics, competing against hundreds of others in an effort to take home medals for her Kingdom — and, she explains repeatedly, for her family. “I really, really want to make my mom happy,” says Alquthmi. “I want to make her proud.” 

Alquthmi, 12, is a runner with an intellectual disability who practices for two hours every day, working on a mix of swimming, cardio and running, focusing often on strengthening her legs. The latter is necessary; she is underweight with weakened muscles.

“When I was told I would represent Saudi Arabia in the Games, I felt real happiness,” Alquthmi said with a grin. Those who know her describe Alquthmi as charismatic and social, easy to talk to and naturally curious. “I want to go and participate so I can make my mom proud. My mom will cheer for me. This makes me happy.” 

Swimming in the deep does make her feel a little afraid, Alquthmi acknowledged. But her brother is helping her learn and she likes being in the water. 

Training has helped Alquthmi to make and grow friendships. She likes to work out with the other girls on the team. Yet most of all, Alquthmi loves making her mom happy.

“I want to make her proud,” said the beaming teenager. “I hope to win for her.” 

INTERVIEW: Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal, the prince who wants everyone to be part of Saudi Arabia’s forward trajectory

Updated 12 min 19 sec ago

INTERVIEW: Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal, the prince who wants everyone to be part of Saudi Arabia’s forward trajectory

  • The Saudi royal is a venture capitalist and a key supporter of entrepreneurship in the Kingdom

JEDDAH: Arab News recently got up close and personal with Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed, a name that is often associated with successful business, entrepreneurial and humanitarian ventures.

Khaled bin Alwaleed has never conformed to the typical image of what a royal should be like, and he says this was down to his parents.

“It stems from how I grew up and what my parents instilled in me. They really emphasized how important it is to connect with people no matter what position in life they hold.”

He said that his mother used to get on with everyone in their household, from kitchen staff to gardeners, on a very personal level, giving each person importance and inclusion. “That connection — that characteristic — is probably one of the best examples of how I grew up.

“Sometimes I don’t act in the ‘proper’ manner that people expect. I’m here to do what I believe is right, and what I believe is right is being myself.”

He admits that in the past he had struggled with the conflict of how he should act to suit the persona expected of him. 

He admits that he struggled in the past to manage people’s expectations of him.

“I thought I should act in a certain way, do certain things that were expected of me, but were really alien to my personality and what I wanted to do for myself. In the end, what has worked best for me is being as honest and as genuine as possible.”

The Investor 

Prince Khaled founded his holding and investment company, KBW Ventures, in 2014, and he has made it his purpose to invest in a broad range of businesses, from technology start-ups to successful companies.

Prince Khaled doesn’t consider himself a renowned entrepreneur — he says calling him this would steal the thunder from everyone who started from scratch. He thinks of himself as more of a venture capitalist who supports entrepreneurship in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.

Before taking on a project, what he looks for most is the drive, knowledge, and commitment of the entrepreneur. 

“I look at how well they understand how to scale a particular business, and the business itself. It is important to know how well the founder (of the business) knows the industry, the numbers, competition, and how to best showcase their product or service and put it in front of the right audience.”


Name: Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud

Date of Birth: 21 April 1978

Education: Bachelor in business from the University of New Haven.

Current position: • Founder and CEO of KBW Ventures • Founder and Chairman of KBW Investments.

His advice to local businesses (and this applies to young entrepreneurs, as well) is to do their homework on the industry of the start-up, the potential verticals that exist, scalability, and to assess everything through due diligence before jumping into a project — at least that’s how he runs things.

“We should all want to be part of Saudi’s forward trajectory. My ideal situation is to put Saudi Arabia on the map as having the most successful track record for venture-backed companies. KBW Ventures has thankfully had a very good start but it doesn’t stop there. I want to partner with more Saudis to expose our entrepreneurs and our venture capitalists to international markets and international venture-backed companies. We’re not just an oil-rich country; we’re rich in entrepreneurship, we’re rich in innovation, and hopefully, quickly getting richer in terms of our history with venture-backed companies.”

He thinks the future is in the hands of the youth,  basing this view on how Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has changed things in Saudi Arabia.

“Mohammed bin Salman is the face of Saudi youth and its future — he has mobilized and invigorated the younger generation like no one before. I’ve never seen so many young people looking for a way to support the country and get involved — it is the best time for us as Saudis.”

Prince Khaled with King Salman

Prince Khaled has much more on his agenda, focusing on causes where he can make a difference such as “climate change, sustainability and animal welfare,” he said.

With KBW Ventures, he hopes to act as an ambassador to a healthier, more sustainable society.

The prince is also an enthusiastic humanitarian and vocal vegan, who has chosen to apply his beliefs to his lifestyle first.

“I started as a vegetarian many years ago and gradually transitioned my lifestyle completely; I’ve talked extensively about the health benefits and I think if people even adopt reducetarian measures it is great for the planet and for overall health and wellbeing.”

He said that at this point, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is no longer an option but a necessity. “I really feel the need to incorporate physical activity into my day and it’s matched with clean eating. No matter how busy you are, your health is the most necessary aspect as obviously if that isn’t a priority things fall apart very quickly. I work out daily and I eat well; that’s what fuels me to do what I do.

He has noticed the onslaught of GCC individuals going plant-based. He thinks that they are motivated by a combination of factors: the desire to live healthier and to live more humanely, in terms of being kinder to animals and reducing our damage to the earth. He is fully supportive of the General Sports Authority Chairman Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal with its mission of promoting mass sports participation and working on educating the health care system and citizens in general. “I’m not naïve enough to think the world is going to go vegan, it is not practical. Saudi is a very meat-centric culture; for the Saudi health problems of obesity and heart-related issues, I really encourage everyone to try a reducetarian diet by incorporating more fresh vegetables, legumes, basically just expand your eating horizons.”



Saudi Humane Society 

Prince Khaled’s latest move on a very resolute chessboard is taking on the role of the presidency at the Saudi Humane Society (Rifq, or SHS) in January 2019. He told Arab News: “I happily accepted the role as I believe I can add value there.”

Acting as one of the first NGOs in Saudi, SHS was dormant for the past few years, he said. Under his leadership, SHS now has two, five and 10-year goals across various tenets. 

SHS will be introducing TNR [Trap-Neuter-Release] programs, as some Saudi cities have issues with strays. 

“This issue wasn’t dealt with humanely in the past, and the important thing is that moving forward we work toward preventing these incidents from happening again. 

The Minister of Municipal and Rural Affairs, HE Eng. Abdullatif bin Abdulmalik Al-Sheikh, banned animal poisoning; a noteworthy first step in the right direction, followed by TNR.”

SHS will also work with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), on the legislation to prevent the import of exotic animals, as well as with other organizations to deal with exotic animals in Saudi and returning them to the wild.

“We’ll be collaborating with the government on recommendations on how to best operate the sanctuaries, introduce animals back into the wild, and also educate the public on the importance and absolute necessity of biodiversity,” he said.

SHS also led a campaign recruiting young volunteers in different regions of the Kingdom to participate in rescuing animals. Prince Khaled is a firm believer in the youth’s effect on the advancement of society.

“Activating our youth across everything we do is how we really activate Saudi, whether it is for animal welfare or for our work with health and wellness. There has been a slew of volunteers coming to donate their time, effort and their emotion to these animals. We are so blessed to have a relationship with these people, they’re passionate and they really care. They will work on a TNR program in Madina, starting from the university in Taibah where they’ll trap, neuter then relocate the animals in other areas.”



A program that traps stray cats, spays or neuters them, and then returns them to where they were found or, if the place isn’t secure, relocates them to a better home.