Saudi Arabia’s football federation appoints first women board members

Saudi Arabia’s football federation appoints first women board members Saudi Arabia's Football Federation (SAAF) appointed Adwa al-Arifi and Reham Al-Onaizan and the new president is Qusay bin Abdulaziz al-Fawaz

Adwa Al-Arifi (left) with the new president of SAFF Quassay Alfawaz. (SAFF)

Adwa Al-Arifi and Reham Al-Onaizan were appointed to the board of 11 on Wednesday. Quassay Alfawaz was elected the organisation’s new president.

Adwa Al-Arifi, who was previously a SAFF committee member, joins Reham Al-Onaizan, who brings rich experience in planning and project management from the private sector, on the board.

Al-Arifi has been a member of SAFF’s social responsibility and public participation committee since February, when she became the first female SAFF committee member. She has been involved with women’s football and widening sports participation for more than a decade. In 2007 she set up Saudi Arabia’s first female football club, Al Yamamah FC, while at university.

Football is one of the most popular and fastest-growing sports for women in Saudi Arabia, particularly after stadiums were opened to women to become more family-friendly with tens of thousands flocking to watch the action since.

Al-Arifi said: “Football in Saudi Arabia has always unified us as families behind TV screens, and now inside stadiums, to support our clubs and national teams who made us happy and proud for years. It is such an honor to be able to serve the youth and families of Saudi Arabia through football.

“For us, football is more than a sport, it’s a rich cultural activity that brings us all together.”
Al-Arifi was, Saudi media has reported, appointed in February as “the first woman committee member” in the history of SAFF. She was part of a seven-member corporate social responsibility committee, and holds a degree in business administration.

Saudi authorities said al-Fawaz was the sole candidate who met all conditions for a post left empty after Adel Ezzat resigned on August 19 to run for the presidency of the Asian Football Confederation. Alfawaz was elected as SAFF’s president at the King Fahad Cultural Center in Riyadh on Wednesday, and he revealed big plans for the development of Saudi Arabian football.

Speaking at SAFF’s annual general assembly, he said his goals for Saudi Arabian football in his first term – which runs until 2022 – are doubling the number of football players in the country, improving the ranking of the Saudi national team to 40th in the world (up from 70th).

He told the meeting: “We are confident about the situation of our national team before the Asian Cup tournament, we will be preparing our team to achieve the best possible results. We believe that our football has the right capabilities to reach a global stage.”

Alfawaz said he plans to send more players from the Kingdom to strong foreign leagues, a move which began to happen in 2018, and to place the Saudi Pro League – this year named the MBS League — among the top 10 in the world. His ambitious program, called ‘The Rise of Saudi Football’, will also see an increase in the number of national coaches and the recruitment of specialized scouts to discover more raw talent in Saudi Arabia.

He told delegates his plan is inspired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 program.
As part of his team to improve football, Alfawaz will be joined by Roger Draper, the former Chief Executive of Sport England from 2003 to 2006 and the Lawn Tennis Association from 2006 to 2013.

In his time at Sport England, Draper had overall accountability for business turnover of £340m and was involved in London’s 2012 Olympic bid, and the Wembley National Stadium construction project.

Alfawaz said: “Foreign expertise is essential, and Roger Draper has rich experience in the English Premier League managing several sports projects. We will benefit from his experience.”

Since January women have been able to watch football matches at certain grounds and women’s basketball and squash competitions have been launched over the past year.

Also joining the SAFF board is former Sport England chief executive Roger Draper. He has worked with tennis and rugby administration in the UK before taking the role in Saudi Arabia.

This article has been adapted from its original source.