Lina Almaeena is in Paris to support her basketball team of Saudi Arabian teenage girls. Founder of the Jeddah United Sports Company in 2003, Lina represents a new generation of passionate Saudi Arabian women, increasingly present on both the Saudi and global scenes.
Picture a bunch of teenage Saudi Arabian girls in the heart of Paris’s 13th Arrondissement, playing a friendly basketball match with the girls from Paris Université Club. A rare sight, which nevertheless took place on April 20th, 2017. Behind the initiative is Lina Almaeena, ever as dynamic as her young team members.
She quickly checks out her hair and make-up’s reflection on her iPhone, and proudly wears the colors of Jeddah United, the sports club she backs. For her, sport is a passion first, a career second. And she is part of the rising generation of Saudis, helping propel the kingdom beyond the myriad of stereotypes it is surrounded by.
“A rising generation of Saudis”
Lina created Jeddah United Sports Company in 2003 to help girls play sports, namely basketball and football, in Saudi Arabia. She considers sport a necessary tool for personal development, men and women alike. Creating a club was not without its difficulties yet she is optimistic regarding the future of women’s sport in Saudi Arabia.
Princess Reema bint Bandar was appointed Vice-President of the General Sports Authority in August 2016, and right after the Kingdom had presented an updated national strategy, Vision 2030. In Lina’s words: “So, we have a female representative in sports, in Saudi Arabia”.
Even though her roles mean that she can’t spend as much time on the court as she’d wish, she pushes youth to play sports, which to her is a “universal language”. On court, her players communicate in an Arabic-English blend of sports lingo. Some even in French.
Lina, who is Francophone, fondly recalls an anecdote from class in Strasbourg: “While speaking, a student said ‘La problème’. My professor instantly interjected saying: ‘Please remember that the problem is always masculine. Never feminine. It’s le problème”. The Saudi girls take home the medal, 57-44, but Lina adds “Sports is a universal language (…) and we are here tonight because we wanted to build more bridges with the French people”.
KAWA – How did you passion for sport begin?
Lina Almaeena – My passion for sport started from my father. He was the person I used to play a lot of sport with, from football to tennis and cricket. And I was also inspired by seeing a lot of icons and champions throughout the world. I remember meeting with Muhammad Ali Clay. And that really shaped a lot the fact that I got into sports and it became a part of my career.
What is the role of sport in education ?
LA – I believe that sports empower women and youth, and even men. First of all from a psychological perspective, it stimulates the happy hormones. It makes you a happier and better person. And of course on a physical level, it fights all these different diseases including cancer.
What is the engagement of Saudi women in sport ?
LA – In August 2016, this was few months after the new Saudi 2030 Vision was announced, Princess Reema bint Bandar was appointed as vice president for the General Sport Authority, so we have a female representative for sports in Saudi Arabia. She is a big promoter and I had the honor to climb the Everest basecamp with her in 2012 to raise awareness about the importance of physical activity. And how it is a prevention of breast cancer for women.
What does France mean to you ?
LA – This is a question about France. I prefer to answer in French. I was in Paris for a summer school, and I would say that France represents intellectualism, education, many things and many emotions.
Do you have a message for young French and Saudi girls ?
LA – My message is to really exercise. I believe that physical activity is a great way to feel better and also is a great investment. You know, today we have been invaded by technology and there is minimal movement compared to the generations before this. So, I think that sport is a universal language that we share. We are here tonight because we wanted to build more bridges with the French people.