WHY should Saudi families not be overjoyed to enter stadiums? I come from a family in which my uncles were captains of the Al-Ittihad football team. They played in games I never had the chance to watch because they were not filmed those days in the late 1960s. For many years, I heard about the skill, performance and achievements of my father and uncles on the pitch through word of mouth.
I attend football matches abroad with my family but have never done so here in the Kingdom. I have attended matches in which the Saudi national team has played abroad, but never in Saudi Arabia. I attended, as a sport reporter, Saudi volleyball and water polo finals in 2008. However, these events took place in closed rooms behind opaque glass screens so no one would know a female was there.
I used to watch matches on TV and then telephone players for quotes after the final whistle. I knew deep inside that this would change. I just did not know that I would get the chance to watch a football match with my father and his grandchildren at a club that we have been supporting from one generation to another. This is not just a dream come true, it is history breaking tradition and culture in a very promising way. This is a result of Vision 2030.
The nature of Saudi culture evolves around being there for each other and supporting each family member. In simple words, family always comes first. When the decision was announced this year to allow families to enter stadiums in Jeddah, Riyadh and Dammam, the number of spectators doubled. Al-Riyadiyah, for example, said this week that the number of spectators in the Saudi football league had risen from 32,244 in the 16th round to 61,441 in the 17th. This does not only mean extra attendance, but also new areas of investment that would help the economy. We could see more kiosks, restaurants and children friendly attractions that families could visit before and after matches.
London, for example, built a new Olympic park to host the London 2012 Summer Olympics. The goal was to host the games but it also resulted in regenerating the East End of London and giving prominence to sports. It also created many jobs, increased the rate of rent in the area and helped in providing a kind of legacy to local people, not to mention a decrease in the rate of crime.
That is why it might be just a football game for some, but for us it is a new window of opportunities and a way of sharing additional quality time with family. This is a time for families, siblings and parents to bond. This is how sports bring us together and that is what we are proud of and happy to see in Saudi Arabia. This is also why it matters to us. Mothers will no longer miss their children when they go to watch matches. Parents can now introduce their children to sports and find out which ones they really enjoy and encourage them to further their interests. Things like this do not happen by just watching sports on television.
First-hand experience can play magic. This is an opportunity to see the reactions of winners and losers after matches, something that can teach our children many lessons such as there always being a second chance and that you just have to be patient and committed to prove yourself.
In 2017, the Journal of Park and Recreation Administration published an article about this that concluded that family presence and involvement supported the acquisition and application of life skills and that youth participation in programs created opportunities for bonding and positive changes within families.
In my view, attending matches is going to be the new hype for families and entrepreneurs interested in a booming industry. Attendance will encourage athletes who will see their worth and value in society increase. Spectators will appreciate athletes more, will closely follow games and even start considering athletes as role models. Entrepreneurs will also be there to seek opportunities and enhance the Kingdom’s business and economy. That is what the country is working hard to achieve through its vision and by allowing families to attend stadiums and enjoy matches. Let us be there for our national teams, children and future generations.