Spectator Sports in Saudi Arabia

I'm not a sports fan. I will occasionally jump on the bandwagon when a local team is in the playoffs or when "my people" are doing well in the Olympics. I've even played a few sports — at university, I was a member of the graduate drama faculty's aptly-named baseball team, the "Comedy of Errors."

But there are passionate sports fans who don't want to be cut off from their lifeblood while working in Saudi Arabia. And while sports are readily available on satellite TV, sometimes a fan wants to experience live sports amidst the roar of the crowd. (But be advised sports fans: Not all events will be open to members of both sexes — check in advance.)

Soccer/Football

Soccer, or football, is very popular in the Kingdom. Saudi Arabia is home to the 12-team national league, the Saudi Professional League (aka the Saudi Premier League). Probably the most followed team is the Al Hilal Saudi Club, which is based in Riyadh. Al Hilal is part of the Saudi Professional League and the Asian Football Confederation's Asian Champions League. Al Hilal plays at the 67,000-seat King Fahd Stadium. Also playing in Riyadh are the Al-Nassr and Al Shabab clubs.

Jeddah is also home to more than one soccer club: Al-Ittihad Jeddah (fan site: http://www.ittihadfans.com/) — probably the second-most-popular team in the country — which plays at the 23,000-seat Prince Abdullah al-Faisal stadium and the Al-Ahli Sports Club, which plays out of the 24,000-seat Prince Sultan bin Fahd Stadium. Both are in the Saudi Premier League, and Al-Ittihad is also part of the Asian Professionals League.

Several other cities also have professional teams, including Abha, Dammam, Mecca, and Tabuk.

The Saudi National Team, known as the Green Falcons, qualified for 1994, 1998, 2002, and 2006 FIFA World Cups, but did not qualify for the 2010 or 2014 events.

Basketball

The Saudi Arabia Basketball Federation, a FIBA (Federation Internationale de Basketball/International Basketball Federation) member, has 72 registered teams (all male), including the Al Ittihad Jeddah basketball team and Al Hilal basketball team in Riyadh. The Federation is headquartered in Riyadh, and can be reached at saudibasket@yahoo.com or by phone at 1-488-7949 or 1-482-1713.

Auto Racing

The Jeddah Raceway was described in a February 2006 Arab News article published shortly before its opening as being "… on 250 sq m [of] land with a 4,000-seating capacity. It will consist of five broadly designed sections -- an international standard quarter mile drag racing strip, a 1.2 km go-kart and autocross circuit, a skid pan area to test individual skills, a driving school for training race-drivers, and a landmark control tower." FIA (Federation Internationale de l'Automobile) has two affiliated clubs in Saudi Arabia: Saudi Automobile Federation (SAF) and Saudi Automobile Touring Association (SATA). The national organization is the Saudi Arabian Motor Federation (SAMF).

Camel Racing

The Janadriyah Festival starts off with a traditional camel race, the King's Camel Race. The Festival is held in Janadriyah, which is about 45 km outside Riyadh, and takes place over two weeks each year (the date varies, but it is usually in February).

Additionally, every Monday during the winter, camel races are held at the King Fahd International Stadium.

Horse Racing

The major international horseracing event is the King's Cup (formally, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Cup), which usually takes place in February, and which is held at the King Abdulaziz racetrack at Janadriyah. Technically, there are two King's Cup races held, but while both are Group 1 events, one is open to thoroughbreds four years old and up, while the other is restricted to those bred in Saudi Arabia. Beyond the main King's Cup events, the racing season at Janadriyah runs from late September until April, with races taking place on Friday afternoons and evenings. For more information, see the Equestrian Club of Riyadh.

Expatriate (Or Mostly Expatriate) Leagues, Federations, and Teams

For spectator sports at the most basic level, you can take a trip down to your compound's tennis or basketball courts to watch your colleagues compete. And the social clubs at the King Faisal Specialist Hospitals in Riyadh and Jeddah also have organized teams. But there are other options, too:

Rugby

Rugby fans can cheer on the teams of the Riyadh Rugby Football Club or the Jeddah Rugby Football Club. Each clubs' teams represent a mix of Saudi nationals and expatriates, including British, American, Canadian, French, South African, Jordanian, Syrian, Sri Lankan, Lebanese, Tunisian, Irish, Welsh, Australian, and New Zealander.

Cricket

My friends in the UK once tried to explain this game to me, but despite their patient efforts, I don't get it. Nonetheless, the game is very popular in many areas of the world, particularly Commonwealth countries. The Riyadh Cricket Association provides listings of teams and schedules, as does the Jeddah Cricket Association. For more information, you can also visit the website of the Saudi Cricket Centre, the national governing body which is headquartered in Jeddah.

Kids

If you're in Saudi Arabia with kids, there are a variety of teams around (e.g., baseball, t-ball, soccer, basketball) some organized through schools, some through expat organizations, for your kids to join. Jeddah is a baseball hotspot for kids, with several little league teams operating through the Jeddah Youth Baseball League.


Do you have an expat league that you'd like to let us know about? Please email hza@hziegler.com.

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