Manama: Sporting history will be made today in Saudi Arabia when 30 cyclists will compete in the country’s first bicycle race for women.
The competition, over a distance of 10 kilometres in the Red Sea city of Jeddah, is part of the “Be Active” initiative and the kingdom’s commemoration of World Health Day 2018 held this year on the general theme “Universal health coverage: everyone, everywhere.”
The winners will be awarded cups and medals by the General Sports Authority at King Abdullah Sports City, popularly known as Al Jawhara, the multi-use stadium and the second biggest in Saudi Arabia after Riyadh’s King Fahd Stadium.
One of the participants has called for allocating special lanes for cyclists to allow women to ride their bicycles on a daily basis, Saudi daily Okaz reported on Tuesday.
“The race is one of the best competitions that are organised for woman and which were not available in the past. Such activities will promote the twin concept of health and sports,” Raghd Mohammad, a university student, said.
For Samira Abdullah, the race is a special motivator to make greater efforts to maintain their fitness.
“We are grateful to the General Sports Authority for their generous support.”
The bicycle race will be held a few weeks after Makkah, 70 kilometres away, hosted the first women’s marathon in the country through a partnership with Al Wehda Sports Club.
In March, around 1,500 women took part in the kingdom’s first mini marathon for women in Al Ahsa, eastern Saudi Arabia.
Those who signed their names up were around 2,000, a much higher than expected number that forced organisers to stop accepting participants. Mizna Al Nassar, the 28-year-old engineer who won the 3km race after beating challengers from the US and Taiwan, said she was looking forward to representing Saudi Arabia at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Saudi Arabia has embarked on an ambitious drive to ease social controls, re-introduce entertainment and empower women at all levels, including giving them the rights to attend sporting events and to drive.
The drive is led by Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman who wants to repackage the nation as more moderate and more welcoming.