The Jeddah Running Collective, founded in 2013, works on unleashing women's potential © Jeddah Running Collective
In Saudi Arabia, the Jeddah Running Collective, founded in 2013, works to unleash women through the practice of group running. This initiative, open to gender diversity since its beginning, completely reshapes the place of women in the kingdom’s social and urban landscape.
Some Saudi women didn’t wait until 2017 and the first lifting of the bans on women attending sports games, in particular, to take the lead and act. Bold and unorthodox movements cleverly avoided restrictions, such as attending or participating in a national or state-organized tournament. They have started to emerge and offer women a space to share their practice and passion for sport legally!
Jeddah Running Collective, the liberating stride
The movement called Jeddah Running Collective (JRC) was born under the commitment of women like Nesreen Ghonaim, JRC’s director and a medal winner triathlete. Mixed, since its inception, the JRC has been launched through three meetings per week: the “Hustle Tuesday”, a beginner’s night session, but also the Ladies Night Sunday and the Longshot Saturday, a long distance race finishing triumphantly over a coffee at Jeddah’s Medd Cafe. “We started JRC to create a place to share our passion for running and its transformative powers.”
Indeed, if these runners in Abaya do not transgress any law by treading the asphalt, running has become a vital and social release, thanks to its liberating properties on both mind and body. Taking advantage of the diverse landscape of Jeddah, between mountainous terrain, desert sands and asphalt, these insatiable runners capture the multiple perspectives offered by the city, which becomes their favorite playground and their territory for expression. Despite the opposition of the religious police and some conservative parts of the society, nothing can stop these groups of mixed runners. And this is a brand new urban show for the people of Saudi Arabia.
A very viral personal and social release
The initiative quickly became viral, thanks to social networks and hashtags like #RunningInAbaya, launched by JRC. The movement has even touched the other big cities of the country like Riyadh, which launched its own collective in 2016, the Riyadh Urban Runners, or with the Khobar Running Krew and the Al Madina Female Runners appeared in 2017. All these initiatives come together under the banner of Yallarun, a motto that is more than just rousing!
Despite the success of these collectives, which today organize races across the country with thousands of participants, Saudi women still have no right to use sports facilities or to participate in national competitions, and the Olympic Committee Saudi Arabia doesn’t have any section for women. Even though the General Sports Authority has recently launched a women’s open policy, in particular by appointing Princess Reema Bint Bandar al-Saud to its head, initiatives like the JRC remain the spearheads of social change and begin a down-to-top evolution of mentalities, they reached such a magnitude that they can not be ignored. ”We may be small, but we are game changers and pioneers”, says Baroom with enthusiasm. “We hope to inspire women everywhere.”