Saudi women footballers set their sights on green goals

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The Greens’ squad are using the plastic bottles they collected at the football stadium to create an art work that will highlight the harm plastic does to the planet. (Supplied photo)
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The Greens’ squad are using the plastic bottles they collected at the football stadium to create an art work that will highlight the harm plastic does to the planet. (Supplied photo)
Updated 28 May 2019

Saudi women footballers set their sights on green goals

  • Eight female players have formed the Greens team to promote environmental causes across the Kingdom
  • The group is led by Rawh Alarfaj, who played football for 12 years

DUBAI: In the natural scheme of things, sports and environment are not easy to combine. But a group of eight Saudi women are attempting just that through their football team, the Greens.

The team’s members want to use their passion for sport to raise environmental awareness and bring about a mindset change across the Kingdom.

The Greens were established by the Saudi Sports for All Federation two months ago — specifically to promote environmental causes. The federation focuses on sports as a social, rather than professional, activity for women, men, adults, children, the elderly and people with special needs.

Leading the Greens is Rawh Alarfaj, 34, who played football for 12 years before deciding to become a coach.

“I am very passionate about sports overall, but my speciality is football and I feel I am good at it,” Alarfaj, who lives in Riyadh, told Arab News. “One of the things that keeps me going is that I am one of the founders of the Challenge Sports Club, which I manage right now.

FASTFACT

 

• The Global Goals World Cup is an alternative sports tournament that creates a community and inspires and engages women from all over the world.

• A one-day football celebration was created for 30 teams in Copenhagen.

• All teams qualify by choosing and creating an action plan on how to work with one of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

“We were focused at first only on football. But from the beginning of 2017, we have also had a basketball team for women in Riyadh.”

“We run programs for everyone in society because our goal is to increase the level of public participation in sports in Saudi Arabia from 13 percent in 2015 to 40 percent by 2030, based on a study we did at the federation,” said Alarfaj.

“Today, we’re at 18 percent. The programs focus on all kinds of sports. Just days ago, in the Danish capital Copenhagen, we took part in the Global Goals World Cup, which promotes causes such as environmental ones.”

The tournament, better known as GGWC, frames the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a sport, with 30 teams worldwide competing to create the kind of world they would like to see. Each team creates an action plan with a particular global goal and strives to achieve it in their own country.

For the Greens, the focus was SDG 15: “Life on Land.” “We thought it would be a good global goal to choose right now because the issue has many sides,” Alarfaj said. “Awareness of the state of the environment is a very important topic now. So we organized a number of campaigns across the Kingdom.”

During a male professional football league game in Riyadh, Greens players distributed reusable bags as they educated the crowds about the benefits of using them instead of plastic bags.

After the event, the team — with the help of a number of young Saudis — cleaned up the stadium. They collected plastic bottles for use in building a “plastic art work” — due for completion in June — which highlights the harm they do to the planet.




The Greens promoted their cause at a football match. (Supplied photo)

The environmental protection campaign was not confined to Riyadh alone. A clean-up drive was undertaken by the Greens at a public park in Alkhobar, in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, while awareness talks were held in Jeddah about how plastic harms marine life.

“These campaigns are really important,” Alarfaj said. “A lot of young people volunteered to help us and it’s something that needs to be a part of the culture.”

Such campaigns gain the team points toward their final tournament score. “Global Goals isn’t just about football,” she said. “It’s about the SDGs and how to achieve them through sports, specifically female football. It’s very good to take part in sports for a cause and to have this culture in Saudi Arabia.”

Having taken part in the GGWC this year, the Greens hope to host the tournament in the Kingdom in a couple of years. “To win, you can’t just go out and play,” Alarfaj said. “You have to organize these campaigns and engage society in the goal you choose.

“Sports is the most peaceful activity which people can use to espouse a cause,” she said. “So I recommend that people get more engaged with sport and use it as a tool to spread awareness about different causes.”

Lujain Kashgari, 28, discovered she loved football when she was only 8 years old. She used to play the sport with her relatives as children. 

As she grew older, so did her passion for the beautiful game. “It’s my favorite hobby and biggest passion today,” said Kashgari, who was originally from Jeddah but lives in Alkhobar at present.

“My mission was to come up with an initiative that engaged the people of Eastern Province and also made a big impact on Life on Land through plastic recycling.”

A lot of young people volunteered to help – it’s something that needs to be a part of the culture.

Greens coach Rawh Alarfaj

To this end, Kashgari asked residents and communities to donate 10,000 plastic bottles to a recycling center. She also targeted children by organizing a fun learning day in the Altamimi public park, while teaching others in schools about the importance of recycling through playing a game.

“What I really liked about the GGWC is that it combines sports with humanities and a good cause,” Kashgari told Arab News. “I have learnt a lot about sustainability and simplicity, while enjoying every moment of the football tournament and scoring three goals. It was an amazing opportunity and an unforgettable experience.”

She said many Saudis lack awareness of ways to implement the specific goal of Life on Land.

“When I read about the Life on Land global goal, especially the concept of the three Rs (recycle, reuse and reduce), and looked around, even at myself, I realized that we might have known about it, but we needed a reminder,” Kashgari said.




their clean-up campaigns have attracted the interest of young Saudi volunteers. (Supplied photo)

“Even when we reached out to recycling centers, we found that they don’t really take plastic bottles unless it’s a massive amount. They don’t support communities or individuals, so I realized it’s very important that we do something about it and give it more attention.”

As a football club, the Greens were able to collect plastic bottles over a period of two weeks to recycle them. It also collaborated with five schools and two sports clubs in Alkhobar to collect 100 tons of plastic bottles, utensils and plates — the minimum required for recycling at the center.

According to Alyah Aboalola, a Greens player from Jeddah, more needs to be done for environmental protection in the Kingdom.

“I was focused more on raising awareness about the sea because local residents in Jeddah are into scuba diving as part of their interest in life under water,” Aboalola, 24, said. “There’s a lot of plastic being thrown into the sea, which affects the quality of marine life and coral life.”

Currently involved full time with a sports academy, Aboalola said she was thrilled as a Greens player to have reached the semifinals in Copenhagen.

“I’d like to do this professionally later on,” she said. “When you take part in sports, you build a community and, through it, we can do more for society. I’d like to always keep sports and environmental
causes connected.”


If Saudi Arabia is forced to put the Hajj on hold, it will not be without precedent

Updated 05 April 2020

If Saudi Arabia is forced to put the Hajj on hold, it will not be without precedent

  • Saudi minister's remarks have called into question viability of this year's Hajj amid coronavirus crisis
  • The annual Islamic pilgrimage has a history of disruptions and cancellations going back centuries

JEDDAH: Will the Hajj, which draws millions of Muslims annually to Islam’s birthplace in Saudi Arabia, be suspended this year owing to the global coronavirus pandemic?
That question had been uppermost in the minds of millions of Muslims worldwide even before a Saudi official asked them to put on hold any plans to perform the obligatory pilgrimage, scheduled to begin in late July.
“We’ve asked our Muslim brothers around the world to wait” before making Hajj plans “until there’s clarity,” Dr. Muhammad Salih bin Taher Banten, minister of Hajj and Umrah, told state-run Al-Ekhbariya TV in comments on March 31 that quickly bounced around the world.
He added: “We've asked the world not to rush with regards to Hajj groups until the path of the epidemic becomes clear, keeping in mind the safety of pilgrims and public health as a priority.”
Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Health has taken the whole gamut of precautionary measures to control the spread of COVID-19 infection in Makkah and Madinah, yet a total of more than 480 active cases have been reported in the two holy cities so far.
Last month, the Kingdom suspended the Umrah pilgrimage until further notice, halted all international passenger flights indefinitely, and blocked the entry and exit to several cities, including Makkah and Madinah.
There have been 25 deaths reported among more than 2,000 COVID-19 cases in Saudi Arabia.

Globally, more than 1,000,000 people have been infected and nearly 59,000 of them have died.
Against this backdrop, a decision to suspend the Hajj may seem at once inevitable and unprecedented.
In actual fact, the pilgrimage has experienced disruptions through the centuries due to circumstances beyond the control of Hajj authorities.
According to a report published by the King Abdul Aziz Foundation for Research and Archives (Darah), the first time the Hajj was interrupted was in 930 AD when the Qarmatians, a syncretic branch of Sevener Ismaili Shiite Islam that revolted against the Abbasid Caliphate, attacked pilgrims on the eighth day of Hajj.
The report says the Qarmatians, convinced that performing the Hajj was an act of idolatry, killed more than 30,000 pilgrims that year, desecrated Makkah’s Zamzam well with corpses, and ran off with the Black Stone of the Kaaba back to Hajr (Qatif nowadays), their capital on the Arabian Gulf at that time.
On account of the bloody assault, the Hajj was not performed for another 10 years, according to the Darah report.
The next disruption happened in 968 AD, says the report, citing Ibn Kathir’s book “Al-Bidaya wan-Nihayah.” It said a disease spread inside Makkah and claimed the lives of many pilgrims.

The Prophet Muhammad said, ‘If you hear of an outbreak of a plague in a land, do not enter it.’


At the same time, camels used for transporting pilgrims to Makkah died owing to a scarcity of water.
“Many of those who managed to reach Makkah safely could not live long after Hajj for the same reason,” according to the Darah report
Among those who came to Makkah to perform the Hajj in significant numbers were Egyptians.
But in 1000 AD, they could not afford to undertake the journey because of the high cost of living in the country that year.
Some 29 years later, no pilgrims from the East or Egypt came for the Hajj. According to the Darah report, in 1030 only a few Iraqi pilgrims managed to reach Makkah to perform the Hajj.
Nine years later, Iraqi, Egyptian, Central Asian and north Arabian Muslims were unable to perform the Hajj.
Dr. Emad Taher, head of the history department at King Abdul Aziz University, said the reason was political unrest and sectarian tensions.
Similarly, no one performed the Hajj in 1099 owing to fear and insecurity across the Muslim world as a result of wars.

Opinion

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Some five years before the Crusaders seized Jerusalem in 1099, lack of unity among Muslim rulers of the Arab region meant that no Muslims could manage to reach Makkah to perform the Hajj.
In 1168, Egyptians found themselves locked in confrontation with Kurdish Commander Asaduddin Shirkuh, who was hoping to extend the Zangid dynasty to Egypt. The situation naturally did not allow Egyptians to perform the Hajj.
The pilgrimage was again disrupted in the 13th century. The Darah report says no people from outside the Hijaz region could perform the Hajj between 1256 and1260.
French leader Napoleon Bonaparte’s military campaign in the Ottoman territories of Egypt and Syria from 1798 to 1801 made the standard routes to Makkah unsafe for pilgrims.
More than two centuries on, a global pandemic has cast a huge shadow of uncertainty on the Islamic pilgrimage.
Hani Nasira, an Egyptian academic and writer, said if COVID-19 cases worldwide continue to increase, a decision to halt the Hajj should come as no surprise.
“If imposed, such a decision will be wise and in full compliance with the Islamic Shariah, which basically aims to protect and preserve peoples’ lives,” he told Arab News.
“In the Holy Qur’an, Allah says, ‘and do not kill yourselves.’ Also, the Prophet Muhammad warned his companions against epidemics.

Muslims visit the Kaaba during a pilgrimage to Makkah in 1954. (AP)

“Abdulrahman bin Awf narrated that the Prophet Muhammad had said, ‘if you hear of an outbreak of a plague in a land, do not enter it; but if that epidemic breaks out in a place while you are in it, do not leave that place.’ This Hadith shows the significance of avoiding plagues.”
Nasira noted that the COVID-19 outbreak has claimed thousands of lives across the world and shows no sign of abating.
“The whole world is suffering from the swift spread of the coronavirus, which has filled people everywhere with unprecedented dread,” he told Arab News.
“With scientists having little information about the virus, a cure isn’t likely to come out soon, so the continuation of the situation makes suspending the Hajj necessary to protect lives.”
Nasira drew attention to the fact that some Muslim countries, including Iran and Turkey, are among the biggest casualties of the pandemic.
“We don’t want to add fuel to the fire. It’s illogical, and Islam also never accepts or approves that. If I were a mufti, I wouldn’t hesitate to call for a suspension,” he said.
Ahmed Al-Ghamdi, a researcher of Islamic studies, pointed out that the Hajj is not a limited ritual in the sense that it can be carried out at least once in the lifetime of an adult Muslim.
“Performing the Hajj isn’t limited to a specific time. An adult Muslim can perform the Hajj whenever he or she likes once they’ve reached the age of discretion,” he told Arab News.
“Prophet Muhammad, for instance, didn’t perform the pilgrimage in the first year the Hajj became a duty. He made his Hajj a year later,” said Al-Ghamdi, who specializes in Hadith and Islamic sciences. Like Nasira, he maintains that Islamic Shariah strongly backs public interest and wellbeing.
“In case of dire necessity, such as because of the spread of the coronavirus disease, political reasons or security compulsions, the Hajj can be suspended and this doesn’t contradict Islamic teachings,” Al-Ghamdi said. “The Almighty has ordered us to not expose ourselves to danger.”
Moreover, Al-Ghamdi said, the Hajj is founded in reason and logic, so if health officials find that a contagious sickness can cause deaths, preserving people’s lives is more important than the pilgrimage itself. “Nothing is wrong with this line of reasoning in Islamic Shariah,” he added.