Today the Saudi Athletes Commission which runs under the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee (SAOC) concluded its two-days Saudi International Athlete Forum under the patronage of HRH Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Alfaisal, President of (SAOC). The virtual forum attracted more than 10,000 viewers among them sports specialists and athletes from the Arab and Asian region who attended to learn about athletes’ welfare from specialists in the field.
The first session about Life After Sports touched on a crucial issue many athletes face after retirement. Former football goalkeeper Dr. Turki Alawad started by saying, “You need to have lenience and flexibility towards your future and the opportunities you may take to enhance your income. You lived as an athlete for 35 years as an average but then you have another 35 to spend, why not spend it by doing something useful and beneficial.” While the former footballer and president of the Friends of Retired Footballers Society Majed Abdullah said, “at the friends of footballers’ society we do a lot of workshops to help athletes find a way to invest in good business or do something useful but not many show up. I wish if every sport runs a similar society to help their retired athletes and help the game itself. HRH Prince Abdulaziz and the Ministry of Housing had been great supporters to us.”
The following session titled, “Athletes Entourage,” included the participation of Saudi Karate coach Ali Alzahrani, former equestrian rider and member at the Saudi Equestrian federation and mother of Olympic champion equestrian Arwa Mutabagani, and Nasser Aldaghaither, former president of the Saudi water polo Federation and father of water polo athlete. Mutabbagani discussed the different important roles she plays as a mother and professional in the sport, she said, “I play more than a role as a rider and as a team director. But It’s not useful for the athletes to mix between them, so when she trains I had to be the team director only to ensure everyone does his job and follow the plan.”
Alzahrani added, families must know about the children’s training plans in advance for parents to arrange their commitments with enough time and vice versa. Aldaghaither, however, explained that it is also important to expose the athlete at an early age to the feelings of winning and losing and how to communicate with it in a way that it motivates you to do better and never stops.
The following session introduced Head of Athletes Section of Olympic Solidarity at the IOC Olivier Niamkey who highlighted the opportunities awaiting athletes from the Olympic Solidarity programs including eight dedicated to athletes. He said, “we have a budget of 509 million US dollars for a four year which is currently from 2017 to 2020 to distribute among all 206 NOCs, in addition to the Olympic Council of Asia activities, and hosting the Olympics.
He also added, “We have programs dedicated for athletes in addition to many other for coaches and administrators, each NOC needs to address us regarding the program they are interested in and we can review their request and approve it. It’s up to the NOC to be active and make an application and an implementation plan to succeed.”
The fourth session included former basketballer and Chair of WADA Education Committee Kady Kanoute, former Côte d’Ivoire hurdler Marcellin Dally, and Saudi Arabian Antidoping Committee Chairman Dr Mohammed-Saleh Alkonbaz. Kanoute explained, “The role of education is key changer because you can have an impact on the decision making of athletes so we try to tailor it to the role of their entourage and those who support the athletes as well. This, of course, should be addressed with the right and targeted programs to offer the right positive programs.”
“If the athletes want to be the best they can, they need to be the best in all angles. That’s why they need to have an open anti-doping environment with the inclusion of integrity, sport values, and ethics through open debates with athletes so issues related can be open for discussion and awareness,” said Dally.
Dr Alkonbaz also noted, “Doping includes health issue problems, legal problems, and ethical and integrity problems. Those three things involved many people being trained to help. In our experience from 2010-2013 we tested less than 500, 6 percent were positive, the percentage in 2017-18 became less than 1 % although the number doubled to 1000 cases. This showed the increased awareness among athletes because of the educational workshops we held among athletes.”
Adding, “But you have to see also who is related to the athletes because they have a direct influence on his decision to weather take doping or not.”
Since the mental health was discussed in the majority of the previous sessions throughout the two days the last session highlighted the importance of sport psychology on the mental health of athletes with the participation of sport psychologist Dr Mohammed Alsulaiman, Dr Mohammed Fagehi, vice president at the Sports Medicine Federation, Bader Aldaghether, water polo athletes.
Alsulaiman pointed out that, “As an athlete, it’s very hard to deal with stress, that’s why he needs a specialist especially in difficult times, for example, a young athlete at a new huge major sporting event. That’s why we need to prepare him in advance to go through this. Individual sports are easier to deal with than team games because of the number. focusing on individual sports can also deliver better results and more medals.”
The importance of preparing mentally is exactly as important to be prepared physically, they are both intertwined,” said Aldaghether. Dr Fagehi agreed and added, “We need to have realistic goals to what we expect from athletes, most athletes are harsh on themselves and tend to think negatively. Confidence is key in securing success, said Fagehi.
The closing session included Vice President of SAOC HH Prince Fahad bin Jalawi Al Saud who thanked the Saudi Athletes Commission for hosting this forum and the guest speakers for joining and for helping the forum to be successful thanks to their participation. He also said, “I believe this is the golden era for our Saudi athletes especially because of having HRH Prince Abdulaziz, SAOC president and athlete who shares the same concerns any athletes have and thus tend to help and support them.”
Adding, “our athletes have high aspiring ideas and we are always happy to listen to them. HRH is always proud of what he hears from these athletes as he keeps mentioning, it’s been always fruitful talking to them.” I hope this forum was beneficial to all our athletes, including the opportunities discussed through the Athletes 365 at the IOC official page and the Olympic solidarity programs.
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