Some strange yet positive news out of Saudi Arabia.
Twenty-four women took part in Saudi Mixed Martial Arts Federation’s first introduction seminar for women. It was held in Jeddah from June 24–25. The symposium’s goal was to educate and mentor women who wanted to pursue careers in the sport as competitors and trainers. It was named “Introduction to MMA.”
According to Abdullah Alhazzaa, CEO of the Saudi Mixed Martial Arts Federation, “this is just the start of our plans to improve the sport, especially for women in Saudi Arabia.”
Those who attended were Saudi women who had a particular interest in martial arts and were either Muay Thai or karate practitioners, physical education instructors, or college students. The ladies that attended were there to learn more about MMA regulations, cage management, and an overview of grappling. Some of them were also highly interested in participating.
This is especially interesting considering that as far back as 2008, Saudi Arabia refused to send any female athletes to the games despite the fact that they existed.
In 2013, Saudi women were allowed to ride bicycles for the first time, although only around parks and other “recreational areas.” Female cyclists must be dressed in full body coverings and be accompanied by a male relative
Things progressed, however even foreign promotions had to deal with restrictions while there. When WWE began holding Saudi Arabia in 2018, the company initially announced that female wrestlers would not be allowed to participate.
It wouldn’t be until 2019 until Saudi women were given the ability to travel abroad freely without permission from male guardians.
College students and physical education instructors were there to learn more about possible career options in MMA. There was a lot of debate about how they didn’t like the way that society portrayed them as being frail and delicate, how they thought Arab women were the toughest, and how they wanted to show the rest of the world that they were right.
Ghalia Baggiily – Ogden Smith is an IMMAF referee and coach based in the UAE. She gave a general review of MMA, its history, importance, and regulations during this seminar. The presentation covered the obstacles women face while trying to enter the sport and how to get beyond them.
Baqqily – Ogden Smith said in her report on the first Saudi seminar, “My experience was very positive. I really enjoyed meeting these women. We connected on many levels. The seminar turned out to be very personal.”
“We talked about our challenges, and we shared some individual stories. They appreciated my story as much as I appreciated theirs. We decided to motivate each other to make MMA happen in Saudi [for women]. We all got emotional at times, but I guess emotions can drive us to high places. Places that we never even dreamt of going to.”
She went on to say the following about Saudi women’s future:
“The future looks bright but needs a lot of work. The challenges are huge compared with those for other women in the Arab world and they must first surpass those hurdles before they even reach the start line.”
“The change in Saudi is happening fast and if we join hands, we can ride the wave of change and succeed. The Saudi Federation is doing an excellent job but still gym owners need to invest more into MMA and bring in coaches from around the Arab world to help.”
Gosha Malik is the Director of IMMAF Member Services. She said:
“Every sport encourages the participation of women, but MMA surpasses many in its commitment to promote female participation in all areas of the sport. IMMAF is building a big pool of female coaches on every continent and in every county.”
“There are no barriers within the IMMAF system and sport education is made widely available to all. Women coaches are making their mark in the sport and together we are building the future.”