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Saudi Girls Basketball Team Part of Hopeful Future for Women's Sports in the Kingdom

posted on: Mar 17, 2017

BY: David Demaria/Contributing Writer

When co-founder of Jeddah United Sports Company (JUSC), Lina Almaeena, was first putting together her fledgling company in 2006, she had many naysayers.

“All the lawyers and people around me were telling me there was no such thing as sports for women in Saudi, and there was no way we could get a license or permission to establish anything legal,” Almaeena told

Now in its eleventh year of existence, Jeddah United is the first sports company inside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to offer sports training to both genders.

At first, there was backlash. Media outlets refused to publish press releases regarding the academy on the grounds that it was immoral for girls to be taking part in sports.

But in 2007, the team played its first organized match. They traveled to the United Arab Emirates to play a team from the American University of Sharjah, and also to Jordan to take on the women’s national teams.

When the team returned to Saudi Arabia, the media attacked the team, exaggerating match scores to make it look like they had lost badly to their opponents.

After initially being frowned upon, the academy has since fallen into the good graces of the ministries of Health and Education, as an entity to promote a healthy lifestyle for girls and women.

Allowing women to participate in sports became a topic of much debate, and it was decided that women’s sports could lead to a healthier lifestyle for girls and women all ages, and help reduce the risk of obesity and diabetes – conditions that once plagued the female gender within the Kingdom.

Since Jeddah United was established in 2006, two more sports academies for both genders have emerged in Saudi Arabia, the first being Khobar United in 2010, and the other Riyadh United in 2012.

These multi-gender sports academies have provoked significant change to the Saudi Olympic Committee, which sent its first female athletes to 2012 Olympics in London. Sarah Attar, born in Escondido California, competed in the 800M in London, finishing last in her preliminary heat. The other female to join her on the delegation was judo competitor, and Mecca native, Wojdan Shaherkani, who was invited by the International Olympic Committee to compete in the games, despite some opposition by the Saudi Olympic Committee.

At the 2016 Olympics in Rio De Janeiro, Saudi Arabia increased its number of female athletes in its delegation to four. Joining Sarah Attar, who competed in her first Olympic marathon, were 100m sprinter Kariman Abuljadayel, fencer and Khobar native Lubna Al-Omair, and judoka Joud Fahmy, who was born and raised in Santa Monica, California.

Though none of these women have earned medals at the Olympics, their participation shows how much progress women’s sports is making in Saudi Arabia. With three academies promoting multi-gender basketball and soccer programs in the Kingdom, women’s sports is primed to take tremendous strides in the coming years. Perhaps it won’t be too long until we see a Saudi women’s team at the FIFA or FIBA World Cups.