Saudi Government Finally Grants Licenses to Female Fitness Centres


    After a long history of being denied licenses or being shut down, female sports facilities will now be encouraged in Saudi Arabia.

    The ruling comes at a crucial time in the country, as Saudi women’s obesity rates have spiked to 44%.

    According to Step Feed, Princess Reema bint Bandar, the vice president for women’s affairs at the General Authority of Sports, made the announcement in mid-February.

    “It is not my role to convince the society, but my role is limited to opening the doors for our girls to live a healthy lifestyle away from diseases that result from obesity and lack of movement,” said U.S.-raised Princess Reema.

    Doing regular exercises can significantly improve the health of some obese individuals. Vigorously swimming for an hour, for example, will burn up to 650 calories — now these Saudi women will have a place to participate in these healthy workouts.

    Sadly, competitive sports are still off-limits and the Saudi government will not grant licenses to female sports clubs with sports like volleyball, soccer, and tennis.

    “We’ll get a lot more gyms, they’ll compete and get cheaper so more women can come,” said Heelah Abdulaziz, one of the many Saudi women excited for the future.

    Abdelaziz was speaking to the Thomson Reuters Foundation at NuYu Fitness Centre AlYasmin in colorful workout gear and not confined to the head-to-toe black garment women (including foreigners) are required to wear in public.

    There is still a long way to go, but the gym licensing represents small signs of encouragement for Saudi women. Hopefully, this momentum can keep up. Last year four Saudi women competed at the Olympic Games in Rio and two women competed in London in 2012.

    “At the moment we have to bring Western trainers to Saudi,” said Susan Turner, chief executive of the NuYu chain set up by Princess Sara Mohammad Al Saud in 2012 as the country’s first chain of female fitness centres. “But if we can train local women this will bring costs down and help staff more gyms.”