Saudi Arabia: Basketball Growing in Popularity Among Both Men and Women


Although not a sport one would initially associate with Saudi Arabia as compared to soccer, basketball is growing in popularity among young and old, male and female.

By way of background, Saudi Arabia has been a member of FIBA Asia , the International Basketball Federation, since 1964.  The Saudi Arabian national basketball team is administrated by the Saudi Arabian Basketball Association.  The biggest success of Saudi’s National Team was a bronze medal in 1999 at the Asian Championship.

However, an organization that is capturing global attention in the world of basketball is Jeddah United.  Jeddah United has both male and female teams who play for the thrill of the game and in global competitions.  Jeddah United is the first sports company established in 2006 in Jeddah and a trailblazer in promoting basketball, football and sportsmanship for women and youth in the Kingdom.  jeddah_united_basketball_team_website

The coaches and trainers of Jeddah United received their training from American National Basketball Association (NBA) officials.  Jeddah United coaches and trainers share their love of the game with players in addition to instilling additional self-confidence in the players.

Lina Almaeena, is a key player with Jeddah United and shared some insights with American Bedu.

“Let me put it to you this way, for males, basketball is the number 2 sports in Saudi Arabia after football, no doubt.


However, for females, out of my experience in the sports field as a private sector for a decade, I would say without hesitation that Basketball is the number ONE sport for females.  Reason for that is that in “private schools” where PE was allowed vs “gov banned PE” , we had sports facility and for basketball , and volleyball. no soccer field was ever available in Saudi private schools.


Jeddah United 2   First female private school “Dar Alhanan” established in 1955, started sports programs in the 60’s had basketball and volleyball training.  But the competitive edge of basketball and the contact element , empowered by the media in many media outlets, movies, cartoons, have contributed in the rise of basketball in Saudi Arabia as well. We were molded into a global village throughout the years of the media and technology revolution.


Jeddah United Sports Co. was the first local sports company that promoted sports for girls and boys in (different segregated divisions) through sports training academies and sports events management,  We have used sports as tools throughout our events to send out certain messages like “No smoking ” “Drink Milk” “Father and Son” and “Cancer compassion” tournaments.


As we speak, the government is in the process of integrating PE in public girls schools.  We are happy thinking that our initiative and media campaigns have contributed among many other factors, lke the rise of obesity, diabetes, osteoporosis, etc, and social problems, etc to creating a national debate about PE and sports in general.


When we first started our team in 2003, followed by a licensed organization in 2006, we went through phases of media rejection, to segments sarcasm, to labeling by some highest religious authorities, but we kept going.  Our teams international games were televised for the first time in history in 2009 in Jordan where we didn’t just play sports in Saudi Arabia, but actually took to international level and we made it front page at the time in almost every newspaper in the country.


As we speak today after the Olympics, I think we have won the battle of “to play or not to play” even though there are still areas where they oppose competitive sports .  But I believe that harder work comes now with the implementation process and teaching UN definitions of sports “respecting opponents” and winning with pride as well as losing with pride!”


But what draws the Saudi men or women to basketball?

According to Lina, “I come from a sports oriented family culture. As growing up my parents put us in tennis programs, swimming, aerobics, karate etc . But I honestly believe my uncle was the reason I fell in love with basketball.  He used to coach us and play basketball with us everywhere, in every family garage, by his private beach cabin. He would buy hoops and place it everywhere he could. And  we would invite our friends and family members and play ! Meanwhile, I was playing basketball in school as I was in a ( private schoo) In high school I became captain of CWS Children’s World School high school. They had amazing basketball coaches, it was a very progressive school owner, Sana Abu Dawood.



Basketball makes me feel ecstatic, motivated, empowered and it was a treatment for me from post partum depression in 2003, after my first baby, which was one of the main reasons I founded the team, which i called “the Jaguars” initially, then it evolved into Jeddah United as the vision transferred from a private initiative to a national campaign.”


As Lina puts it, “I became a basketball MOM, versus the US soccer moms!”  Jeddah United


I asked her what has been the “secret” in making more Saudis begin to get interested in basketball.  According to Lina, “The secret is that I found salvation through basketball, the level of commitment is soooo much higher than any physical activity as the core concept is “TEAM” Together Everyone Achieves More.”


18 Responses

  1. My guess for its popularity is:
    *can be played outdoors or even better, indoors (when it’s too hot)
    *relatively cheap –you need a hoop, a long open space and basketball
    *invites team camaderie and friendship.
    *sport also offers spectator tv watching so that Saudi fans feel part of the global cheering community. 🙂

    Great! I sincerely hope that Saudis also find 1-2 other loner sports that are popular, since not every one is into team sports. Jogging, yoga maybe? Oh yea, cycling would be a huge stretch, but I welcome more Saudi women enjoying it also, I have for over the last 2 decades.

  2. Wonderful, all girls should get involved in physical activity, team sports like this is even better. Excellent for their physical and mental well being. Best wishes o this org.

  3. Jean, I love cycling too, but a lot of girls in the ME are forbidden to cycle because they are afraid of the fairy tale that it would damage the Holy Hymen.’
    A Hymen is the only thing which gives a girl any market value.

    And, cycling gives you a lot more scope to get around, and that is also very wrong of course, one step further and they would be driving a car!

    I bet beach volleyball would be a great hit…

  4. @aafke

    I love the expression on the face of referee. I somehow think beach volleyball would be a little advanced for the Saudi populace. I could be wrong but I doubt it.

    Women have bodies, get over it! Boys, learn not to salivate if a female passes by, its uncool!

  5. Yes, brilliant photo isn’t it?

  6. Yes excellent photo.

  7. I like the contrast this picture represent. The ladies in hijab looks more professional than the other two girls.

  8. Women have bodies, get over it! Boys, learn not to salivate if a female passes by, its uncool!

    Jerry, noble idea but hardly realistic. Look at the notoriousness of Playboy magazine, I doubt men buy those magazines to learn how to respect women and regard her as equals. The best approach in my humble opinion, is for both men and women to learn a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T. The women to respect her body by the way she handles herself and the ‘boys’ to respect the women as a fellow human being rather than putting her status not more than a mere mating partner.

  9. @MrsB,

    Have you heard of the saying “we get Playboy for the great articles”

    They do have great writers, but you may also argue that they also have a good photography staff 🙂

  10. By the way, for runners extra clothes will impact their ability to compete. The hijab will create wind resistance and impede body motion. In a sport where a winner is decided by fractions of a second, the professional dress is one that optimizes the time for the runner. Hence, the smallest and tightest clothes are more professional dress as it is the attire which allows the runner to get her job done the best.

  11. I would not know about their great articles Moq but judging from your comment you would know better. I do know based on reputation, Playboy equates women next to no more than items of sexual pleasure hence my comment to Jerry that his idea is noble but unrealistic if Playboy has anything to do with it.

  12. at this time in my opinion, saudi women are not likely to get an olympic medal and they dont need to either. they will whentime comes. allt hey require is the ability to play and be active and have a healthy outlet that sports provide. nothing can substitute that.
    so if it takes wearing a hijab and playing basketball or even an abaya and have reduced ability to run, as long as they are allowed to play and as long as the message spreads that sports is a good thing and not something that will deter their marriage prospects and is haram then i’d say it’s 100% success.

    Eventually they will break barriers or maybe not, thats besides the point.
    maybe they will never win an international meet but again who cares. it’s certainly better than sitting at hom and eating or strolling ina shopping mall doing zilch.

  13. My point is that it is the job of the man not to do anything more than look. On a typical beach in summer many women are dressed no differently than the women in the photo. It may be hard for sex obsessed Saudis to believe but the beaches aren’t in a continuous orgy of sexual tension. There is nothing wrong with modesty but the lengths that Saudi society goes to impose modesty on only one segment of society are ridiculous.

  14. … typical beach in any Western country

  15. I agree with Jerry and Moq.

  16. You agree that Playboy has great articles? Phew!

  17. There is nothing wrong with modesty but the lengths that Saudi society goes to impose modesty on only one segment of society are ridiculous.

    This is too true!

  18. Never looked at a PLayboy so I can’t comment on the articles. Of course I meant I agree that to be dressed appropriate to the job, and the climatic circumstances, is to be looking professional.

    To me, just me personally you know, a hijab has nothing to do with professionalism, but everything with religion, which again (to me) is an advertisement that the person in question believes in a lot of misogynist fairy tales, that they are a person of ”faith” therefore will believe virtually any nonsense on no evidence at all, and is not very good in logical and rational thinking.

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