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Exclusive: Director of the Saudi Games HRH Princess Delayel bint Nahar Al Saud Pens an Op-Ed on the Power of Sports 

Exclusively for Vogue Arabia, director of the Saudi Games HRH Princess Delayel bint Nahar Al Saud pens an op-ed on the power of sports.

HRH Princess Delayel bint Nahar Al Saud

HRH Princess Delayel bint Nahar Al Saud. Illustration: Julia Pelzer

For a few weeks, every four years during the summer, the global community comes together.

We push aside some of our differences and focus on what the world can accomplish when we’re united and working together. On what men and women can achieve when the barriers to accomplishment are made less obstructive.

It’s when opportunities for everyone are made more widely available. When we decide to invest in the potential of people and encourage the fulfillment of their dreams. That’s why the Olympic spirit matters.

That’s why the Olympic flame never stops burning, never stops lighting the future.

The Olympic games may only occur every four years, but the dream, the spirit of it, stays with us, supporting and motivating athletes in every corner of the world, every single day.

And most importantly, we don’t have to be world-class athletes to be inspired by, and benefit from, the Olympics. Instead, it’s about what the Olympics brings us.

It’s true that the lasting value of this occasion extends well beyond the track, the court, and the pitch. When the world turns its attention to Paris, when time zones fade and geography matters less, we will all watch together. As an entire global community, our collective attention is focused on the same thing for a moment, watching what can be accomplished when fellow human beings commit themselves to excellence.

It’s a chance for us to see what’s possible not just for this group of athletes, but also for ourselves, if we allow them to inspire and challenge us.

That challenge is not necessarily to become great athletes, though for some of us that might be the case. For most of us, however, that challenge will be to become our best selves. To find ways to overcome the hurdles in our own lives; to accomplish the goals we have set for ourselves; to contribute to the health and safety of our families and to the progress of our communities.

In Olympic terms – to live lives of excellence. That’s now happening in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. A few months after the Paris Summer Games, in Riyadh we will stage our third annual Saudi Games. Our nation’s version of the Olympic Games.

This year’s edition will bring together athletes from all walks of life including paraathletes and more than 6,000 participants. They will be competing in more than 50 different events. It is a true celebration of athletics, a recognition of sports as a tool for social change, and, in the Kingdom, as a force for cultural transformation.

The Kingdom’s landmark Vision 2030 initiative has prioritized a national investment in sports because it’s critical to social and human development. Sports helps mold and shape the life paths for our young people. It emphasizes teamwork, inclusion, and diversity. It seeks to level the playing field, bring greater equality, and ensure everyone a spot at the same starting line.

Over the past few years in Saudi Arabia, we’ve seen women’s athletic participation increase by more than 150% since 2015. That’s a game changer both on and off the field of competition. It’s social change that impacts not just the sports sector but all sectors. When the nation sees inclusion and diversity in a stadium and an arena, that paves the way for greater efforts to do the same in the classroom and the board room.

That’s the power of sports.

That’s why sports matters. That’s why the Olympics matters. That’s why the Kingdom is investing in sports.

The original Olympic values “to encourage effort,” “preserve human dignity,” and “develop harmony” are still at the foundation of what makes sports and the Olympics so essential to the human experience. To strive for excellence, to respect one another and, through competition, to seek unity – that’s how sports changes lives, nations, and the world.

It’s how sports helps us to see that there’s more that we have in common than what divides us. It’s why when we find respect on the field, there’s a better chance we can find respect off of it too.

The Kingdom is committed to doing its part to build this better world as a global partner through athletic and cultural experiences. In addition to the Saudi Games, over the next decade we’ll host other major events – the 2027 AFC Asian Cup, the 2029 Asian Winter Games in Neom, the Riyadh Expo 2030, the 2034 Asian Games, and hopefully the Fifa World Cup – because we believe when we come together, we learn from each other. We believe we can make a difference in the lives of all people. We believe we can promote understanding and correct misperceptions.

We believe in the power of sports to build better lives and a better world. That’s why the Kingdom is investing in sports. Not for the headlines, not to host grand events, but because of the social and economic benefits it brings the nation and our citizens. We make these investments for ourselves, not for anyone else.

This summer in Paris, athletes representing the best of our nation and the best of our world will stand together side by side, not just under their respective flags but under that of the Olympics.

One of them will be Dunya Aboutaleb, a member of the Saudi Arabian national taekwondo team. While there have been other Saudi females who participated as wildcards in the Olympics, Dunya will be the first to fully qualify, earning her way to Paris because of her performance at the Asian qualification tournament. It was a remarkable accomplishment that will change the lives of other young women and girls in the Kingdom because they now know what is possible not just for Dunya, but for themselves. It is an achievement I personally find very significant as a former equestrian athlete who once was unable to ride and compete in Saudi. This is an entirely new day for women’s sports in the Kingdom.

That’s the power of sports. That’s why the Olympics and the Saudi Games can change our lives and our world.

HRH Princess Delayel bint Nahar Al Saud is the director of the Saudi Games and acting CEO of the Riyadh 2034 Asian Games.

Originally published in the July/August 2024 issue of Vogue Arabia

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