Saudi female footballers show will to succeed

1 / 2
USA’s players celebrate their victory in the final. (AFP)
2 / 2
USA women's soccer player Megan Rapinoe holds the trophy in front of the City Hall in New York on July 10, 2019 after a ticker tape parade for the women's World Cup champions. (AFP)
Updated 19 July 2019

Saudi female footballers show will to succeed

  • US team's victory in FIFA WWC final strikes a chord among women footballers in Kingdom
  • Female Arab footballers think they could play better than their male counterparts given the right opportunities

JEDDAH: Football fans around the world celebrated the recognition of women in sports after the recent FIFA Women’s World Cup (WWC) final match, in which the US beat the Netherlands 2-0. One country where the US victory struck a powerful chord among female sports enthusiasts is Saudi Arabia.

Women are participating in sports in increasing numbers in the Kingdom as the reforms being introduced under the Vision 2030 plan enable women to take on different career paths.

Members of Jeddah Eagles, a women’s football squad with 39 players, watched the July 7 WWC final in anticipation of an exciting finish. In the end, they celebrated not only the US team’s victory but the recognition of women in sports as a whole.

Johara Al-Sudairi, who has been playing for Jeddah Eagles as a winger since August 2017, said she is thrilled that football is gaining popularity among women in the Kingdom.

“I’ve been a fan of women’s football ever since I was a kid. Watching Mia Hamm play, then watching Marta Vieira da Silva play for Brazil when I was a teenager got me hooked,” the 26-year-old Saudi told Arab News. “I have never missed a women’s World Cup since. I’m so happy that now the sport is getting more and more recognized. This is a huge step forward.”


FAST FACTS

18 - The Storm, a Saudi women’s football squad, has 18 players.

39 - Jeddah Eagles women’s football squad has 39 players.

Saudi women participate in sports in increasing numbers.

Reforms under Vision 2030 enable women to take different career paths, including professional sports.


Al-Sudairi said women have the drive to succeed in the sport more than their male counterparts.

“I believe that hard work pays off. And from what I’ve seen, I believe women want it more,” she said.

Hala Khashoggi, a Saudi who has also played on the wing for the team since February 2019, said the US team’s victory struck a blow for women’s empowerment worldwide.

“I feel incredible that female empowerment is increasing and it enlightens a lot of young girls and inspires them to play football,” she told Arab News.

Khashoggi believes both men and women can excel equally in the sport. “Comparing the men’s and women’s games is already old hat,” she said.

“Every individual player has their own uniqueness and quality. Every team has its own ability to score well and play incredibly. Thus, comparing is not the solution. Playing better is.”




Farah Jefry plays for the Jeddah Eagles as a midfielder. (Supplied photo)

In conclusion, Khashoggi said: “Every woman should follow her dreams, whatever it is and whatever it takes, because football is not just for men or for women. Football is for footballers.”

Fatimah Gari, who joined the team as a striker in 2014, was happy for her fellow female football players in the US for their victory.

“It is a very good feeling,” the 28-year-old Saudi told Arab News. “I wish one day we will have a Saudi team and will be in their place.”

Gari’s views are echoed by Farah Jefry, a Saudi who has been playing for Jeddah Eagles for over a year now. “As a female soccer player I am delighted to see this amount of attention given to women’s sports. I hope it continues to grow,” she said. 

The 16-year-old midfielder believes Arab women would perform better than their male counterparts with the right support.

“With the right amount of funding and support, Arab women for sure can be better at playing,” she told Arab News.

“Saudi Vision 2030 is giving us lots of opportunities. I would totally encourage women in the Kingdom to learn to play football.”

The US team’s victory in France was a memorable event for members of another Jeddah female football team, The Storm, which a squad of 18 players.

Dona Adel Rajab, the head coach of The Storm since February 2018, who was born and raised in the US, has played football most of her life. “Women’s sports has been around me and I never felt any difference until I moved to Jeddah in 2015,” the 28-year-old Saudi told Arab News.

Women’s sports have grown in recognition and awareness in Saudi Arabia since then, Rajab said.

 

“The popularity of football is increasing. However, the initiative in taking the next step is needed,” she said.

Rajab said what really matters in sports most is discipline and seriousness, not gender or ethnicity.

“Since we are talking about sports, ethnicity and gender are not good indicators to differentiate between male and female. As a football coach, I look at performance and discipline,” she said.

Rahaf Al-Hazmi, a 21-year-old Saudi who co-founded The Storm and plays in defence, is enthusiastic about the future of the sport for women in the Kingdom.

“The mentality of Saudi women has changed a lot. Women have started to participate in all kind of sports and requests to join our team are increasing,” she said.

“The love of football is increasing among women in the kingdom. Especially now that the government is focusing on sports for women.”

“Women who take part in sports in general, and play football in particular, felt blessed to have witnessed this achievement in women sports, “ Al-Hazmi told Arab News, referring to the WWC final results.

“Watching women not only play for fun but also as a career and a calling can give us a motivation to move forward. Women have an amazing capacity to reach their aim. If we really focused on developing our skills and we made this our first priority, we can be so much better.”




Jeddah’s The Storm playing a warm-up game. (Supplied photo)

Johara Hamad, 21-year-old Saudi winger for The Storm, said: “I was surprised at the amount of people who watched and showed an interest. It actually made me even more motivated to improve my skills so that one day I will be a part of such a great event.”

Hamad is against comparing genders in sports, but she too believes Saudi women can play better than their male counterparts with the right support and equal opportunities.

“I don’t like comparisons but in the context of Saudi Arabia, we can be better than the men’s teams if we get the same chances and support,” she told Arab News.

“I believe that we have it in us to scale far greater heights with the support of the General Sports Authority.”

Danyah Al-Othmany has witnessed a steady increase in the number of women interested in football in Saudi Arabia since she took up the sport.

The 24-year-old Saudi, who plays at right back for The Storm, calls the US team’s victory “a great accomplishment.”

“Women have the potential and can become great players if they set their mind to it,” Al-Othmany told Arab News.

“Honestly, it’s all about the commitment. Regardless of whether the player is male or female, what matters is if they are willing to spend time on themselves to improve and become better.”

Al-Othmany’s message to women in the Kingdom who want to take up football is simple: “Commitment is what really counts.”

Perhaps Al-Hazmi, who co-founded The Storm, spoke for many Saudi female footballers when she said: “Years ago no one in the world imagined having a World Cup tournament for women’s football, so nothing is impossible. We need every single talent we have in the Kingdom so that we can collaborate in order to reach the WWC and play alongside the best professional players of the world.”


Iraqi oil-reserve potential ‘could exceed’ Saudi Arabia’s

Updated 37 min 5 sec ago

Iraqi oil-reserve potential ‘could exceed’ Saudi Arabia’s

  • Crescent Petroleum’s CEO Majid Jafar told SALT conference Iraq's production has risen despite obstacles
  • 'Improving investment climate for private sector essential' to utilize Iraq's full energy-sector potential

ABU DHABI: Iraq’s oil reserves had the potential to exceed those of Saudi Arabia, a top Middle East energy company chief has told the region’s first SALT conference.

In spite of years of corruption, a lack of infrastructure, and the five-year war on Daesh in Iraq, the country had managed to increase its production of oil from 1.5 million barrels per day (bpd) to 5 million, Crescent Petroleum’s CEO Majid Jafar revealed.

Speaking in Abu Dhabi on a panel session discussing power dynamics in the energy sector, he addressed Iraq’s position on oil production and the US’ recent move toward energy “independence.”

Referring to the rate of Iraq’s oil production today, he said: “This gives you some indication of the reserve potential in Iraq, which I believe can exceed Saudi Arabia’s.” And he added that parts of the country still remained “unexplored.”

To utilize the country’s full potential in the energy sector, he believed that improving the investment climate for the private sector was essential.

Jafar said this could be achieved by addressing the demands voiced in recent protests lead by Iraq’s youth, adding that “young people have had enough.”

Among their demands were the need for better services, electricity, employment opportunities and a governing system free of corruption and sectarian politics.

Yet, despite the instability, Crescent Petroleum was still optimistic. “As a group, we have invested $3 billion (SR11.25 billion) over the last 10 years, and the rate of investment is increasing going forward.”

Jafar pointed to the Middle East and North Africa region’s steep oil wealth, implying that more could be done to raise competition in the global energy market. He cited new reforms, such as Saudi Aramco’s partnership with the private sector, as a step in the right direction, considering that the region was home to five of the top 10 oil-producing countries.

However, he highlighted that in recent times the Middle East oil and gas industry had given up a significant amount of its market share to its American counterparts.

While the US moved toward “self-sufficiency,” Jafar believed the country’s “inter-dependence” would grow.

“Being an exporter of oil, you start to worry about the markets,” he said, making a projection on the impact of recent changes on the US economy. “With the US becoming one of the biggest producers in the world, its economy in terms of overall GDP does better if the oil prices are higher, and that changes all the calculations.”

Dr. Francisco Blanch, global head of commodities research at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, highlighted that while the US had become “energy independent,” investors had lost a significant amount of funds to “supply the capital to make it happen.”

Blanch’s forecast was that the US would not continue to grow at the pace it had been doing in recent years. “I think investors are waking up to realize that Shell is a marginal-cost business.”

Supporting Jafar’s observations, he agreed that the US had become more interdependent on exports and imports. He pointed out that today, the US imported 6.5 million barrels of oil, and exported 2.5 million bpd.

“I think the capital market has become more skeptical about capital being allocated to the energy sector,” said Blanch, adding that the next five to 10 years would witness a focus on technology and healthcare.

Examining the geopolitical situation in the Arab region, panelist R. J. Johnston, executive adviser and managing director for global energy and natural resources at Eurasia Group, described the energy sector as a “geopolitical-driven story.”

He cited the drone and missile attacks earlier this year on two Saudi Aramco oil sites in the Eastern Province, pointing out the disruptions in supply did not generate an expected response and impact on oil prices.

“This maybe suggests something about how the geopolitics of the region are changing. Even with sanctions on Iran and the attack against the Aramco facilities, the world is more focused on a different kind of geopolitics; more on the demand side,” said Johnston.

He also referenced the upcoming US elections as well as other problematic structural trends in the region and around the world, such as the protests seen in the Middle East, Western Europe, and Hong Kong, as factors that created uncertainty for the growth of the global market.

He added that in the age of US President Donald Trump, America was “less committed to the region” than it had been in the past, a situation that would create a new set of realities.