By Arab News
By Dr. Razan Baker*
When I first became involved in the field of sports, as a journalist in 2005, I thought a new door had opened for me to a world of unlimited opportunities.
I got to meet athletes, officials and decision-makers and learn about them and their experiences. I was able to help them express their feelings and reveal what they had gone through, from the joy of winning to the pain of losing, and how they overcame the challenges they faced. There was always something new to experience as my hobby became what is still one of my favorite jobs, perhaps even the most satisfying.
Now with the opening up of sports to women in Saudi Arabia, whether as players, administrators, officials or even academics, the field is even more appealing. For many, the pursuit of a doctorate is a path to becoming an academic and giving back to society through teaching. However, when I set out on the journey to gain a Ph.D. in sport sciences, my goal was to give something back in a more practical way, and that is what I continue to do, passionately.
I believed investing time and money in my education was the best first step toward that, especially at a time when we did not have sports colleges for women. Many people were critical of my decision to pursue higher education in the field of sports, believing I would not be able to find a job that would allow me to fulfill my dream and all that I was working for.
But I learned a lot from my male peers, which helped give me the motivation to continue. I figured out that if you are open to the experience of acquiring knowledge it can enlighten and inspire you to keep moving forward to prove the naysayers wrong.
I am glad I did persist because times change and nowhere is this more evident than in my country. Saudi Arabia has developed in ways that I, and many of my peers who grew up in the 1980s, could never have imagined. I am definitely proud and honored to witness these changes.
Last year, the government supported moves by universities to introduce a diploma in sports for women. Now five institutions offer it, including King Saud University in Riyadh, Umm Al-Qura University in Makkah, Taif University and King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah.
Jeddah University is the most recent addition to that list and it was inspiring to hear the deputy dean of the university’s college of sports sciences, Dr. Rania Saleem, talk about it. She explained that staff were very careful when choosing courses to ensure they fully meet the needs of students. To help ensure this, the university collaborated with the General Sports Authority to ensure students graduate with the knowledge and skills they need to take advantage of the various career opportunities available to them.
So far, Dr. Rania said, about 110 women have enrolled in the university’s sports diploma program. She added that the university is keen to encourage research by students, because this affects the ranking of the course and university locally and on an international level.
Research in the field of sports in the Kingdom is considered important, especially after the recent changes and developments in the region. There are still many areas to investigate and learn about to improve understanding — and who better to study local sports than local people who have easy access to the teams, clubs and facilities and the luxury of time to conduct research and test theories and ideas.
The situation is different when it comes to men’s sports. About 10 universities offer sports sciences courses for men, including King Saud, Umm Al-Qura, Qassim, Taiba and Taif. However, there are no scholarships for postgraduate degrees in sport sciences, for men or women. Some students have managed to obtain some financial help either through awards granted while they funded their own studies or by working as faculty members.
Now that the field of study is open to more people than ever before, we really hope scholarships can be made available for postgraduates of both genders, so that they can study sports and be part of the changes in Saudi society.
In the same way that I managed to learn from my veteran male peers, and continue to do so, now both genders will be able to collaborate on research and study to produce fruitful and enriching information that will help our nation move forward in the sporting field.
Thanks to Vision 2030, we will see the transformation of knowledge through the new blood of a generation that bases its creative ideas on theory and practice in Saudi sports.
• Dr. Razan Baker is a member of the board of directors at the Saudi Bowling Federation, a specialist in corporate social responsibility in sports, and a sports columnist/journalist.