The International Day of Sport for Development and Peace:

Saudi Football Goes to the Olympics

In 2013, the UN General Assembly proclaimed April 6 as the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace. This might raise a few eyebrows. Really? You might ask yourself. Football is about winning – a model for conflict and competition. But sport and play are human rights protected around the world.

Sport is also an inexpensive and high-profile activity for expanding and extending social and economic development and peace-building efforts. It is recognized by UNESCO and governments around the world.

The Olympics represent the highest profile international sporting event in the world. They were originally held every four years in Olympia, in western Greece, between the 8th century BCE and the 4th century CE. They were revived in 1894 when French historian Pierre de Coubertin founded the International Olympic Committee. Two years later, the first modern Olympics were held in Athens.

The Winter Games were added in 1924, the Paralympics in 1948 and the Youth Olympics in 2010. In 2020, the Tokyo Olympics were postponed due to the pandemic, so they will be held this summer instead.

Football is by far the world’s most popular sport. In 1908, it became the first team sport added to the Olympics.

In the months leading up to the Olympics, there are plenty of opportunities to witness the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. The German women’s team are the defending Olympic champions, but they failed to qualify for this Olympics by losing to Sweden in the quarterfinals of the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup. There are no foregone conclusions.

On a positive note, the Saudi Arabian U-23 men’s team qualified for the Tokyo Olympics for the first time in 24 years.

The Saudi National Olympic Committee was formed in 1965, and Saudi athletes competed in the Olympics for the first time in 1972.

The Saudi Arabian Football Federation was established in 1956 and immediately joined FIFA – the international football federation. The first Saudi club was established in 1927, Al-Ittihad of Jiddah. They were joined by Al-Ahli a decade later and then Ettifaq (1944), Al-Shabab (1947), Al-Nassr (1955) and Al-Hilal (1957).

The Saudi national football team has had strong results in the AFC Asian Cup – including a pair of trips to the finals – in 1984, 1988 and 1996. They have also made five World Cup appearances since 1994.

Saudi football is on the rise. The top team in the Kingdom, for example, Al-Hilal, finished 2019 ranked #35 and rose as high in the monthly “club world ranking” as the number seven team in the world.

Words by Daniel Kany