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.”


‘American Sharqawia’: US Consul General Rachna Korhonen bids Saudi Arabia farewell

Updated 09 July 2020

‘American Sharqawia’: US Consul General Rachna Korhonen bids Saudi Arabia farewell

  • "There’s some magic in the water of the desert," says Korhonen

JEDDAH: As she reaches the end of her second mission in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, US Consul General Rachna Korhonen will soon be heading home, taking memories to last a lifetime.
Known for her love for culture and the Arabic language and for her vast knowledge of the region, Korhonen became well known as a constant supporter of Saudi women and youth in the region, participating in numerous cultural and social events in the Eastern Province and across the Kingdom.
After two more weeks in the Kingdom, Korhonen will return to the US capital to serve as the executive director of the Bureau of Near East Affairs (NEA) and the Bureau of South Central Asian Affairs (SCA) at the US State Department which supports the posts in the region, including Saudi Arabia, thus continuing her connection with the Kingdom.
With 14 years of experience as a US diplomat, she served 3 years in Riyadh in 2010, and then came back to serve as the consul general in Dhahran in August 2017. “I would say Riyadh was the start of my relationship with Saudi Arabia, and Dhahran and the Eastern Province is the culmination of the relationship,” said Korhonen told Arab News on a video call. She almost feels herself Sharqawia, a resident of the Eastern Province, Sharqia.
“Ana Sharqawia (‘I am a Sharqawia). The measure of any place is the people, it’s not about the place, it’s really about the people.”
As consul general, her role was to build relations and promote the interests of her home in the country where she was posted. Korhonen went the extra mile, she joined in the region’s celebrations and understood its traditions and culture.


Recalling her time in the Eastern Province, she said: “I’ve been getting to know Sharqawis, the people who live and work here, who have made this their home in the years since Aramco started or were born in Al-Ahsa. I think anyone who comes to the Eastern Province falls in love,” she said.
“The biggest reason I’ve gotten to enjoy myself here is (because) it has quite a bit of America here. I think it’s difficult to realize how much America exists in Saudi Arabia until you come to the Eastern Province,” she added.
As the drilling for oil began in 1935 with the help of the California Arabian Standard Oil Company (CASOC), which later became Saudi Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s oil capital has been home to thousands of Americans over the past 85 years, who have had a major influence on the region.
“Aramco is definitely a reminder of home, and you put that in with the people, the hospitality, the normal way of being Saudi which is to welcome your guests no matter who they are. You put those things together, you get the best of the United States and you get the best of Saudi Arabia.”
A native of New Jersey and big baseball fan, her love for the game didn’t stop her from supporting the Al-Ettifaq Football Club in Dammam, attending matches and singing their anthem.
Her trips to Al-Ahsa, a place she calls the most beautiful place in the Kingdom, allowed her to discover the region’s vast experiences.
Her appreciation of Al-Ahsa goes deep. Both the scenery and the hospitality of the people make it her favorite city — she even took Ambassador John Abizaid on a trip there in February.
“As you drive towards Al-Ahsa, you can see the sand changing color, from a bright yellow to a reddish color,” she said. “You start seeing the desert turning green, which is amazing to me. I’m a mountain and forest type of person and I can tell you that I now like the desert too, it’s beautiful.”
The uniqueness of Al-Ahsa called out to Korhonen and she recalls her first visit to the region in 2017. “The history, the people, the food, the culture, is very different from any place I’ve been to in Saudi Arabia, Hasawis (people of Al-Ahsa) are lovely. I think there’s some magic in the water of the desert,” she said.
Korhonen developed an interest in regional cultural events, visiting local markets picking out sheep for Eid, learning about the Saudi love for falconry and participating in the traditional celebratory dance of Al-Arda. She even has a Diwaniya, a parlor where guests are received, at her home.

When she returned to the Kingdom in 2017, Korhonen noticed the transformation of the Kingdom, noting that Vision 2030 has been the instigator for this noticeable change.
“The changes have been tremendous, I think Vision2030 is really going to really bring Saudi Arabia onto the world stage. I think some parts are already there. In the energy sector, Saudi Arabia has always been a leader,” she said. “I’m betting you right now that you’re going to see Saudi women, you’re going to see Saudi men, you’re going to see Saudi kids, Saudi art, culture and music, the traditional Saudi things, all starting to show up on the world stage.”
As the Kingdom heads towards diversifying its economy, Korhonen anticipates that the world will begin seeing more Saudi entrepreneurs with innovative ventures, as education is key. She noted that with the continuous flow of Saudi students on scholarships in the US, their return to the Kingdom will help bring forth a new business-like mindset with partnerships between the two countries that will help the Kingdom’s economy to flourish.
“It’s coming,” she noted. “I’ve seen some of the (US) businesses here, but I haven’t seen enough yet and I’d like to see more of that in the next 2-5 years, because Vision 2030 will be a success if we can get entrepreneurs to start businesses and hire more Saudis,” she added. “That to me is the key and that is what you should be bringing back from the US.”
As the end of her mission draws near, it's safe to say that we'll be seeing Korhonen back in the Kingdom in the near future.
“I’ll honestly come back because of the people, because of the friendships I’ve made here.”