For well over a decade, Lina Al Maeena has been fighting for girl’s sports in Saudi Arabia and her efforts have finally paid off as the Education Ministry announced last year that physical education classes for girls would be allowed in public schools. A first.
Back in 2003, Ms. Al Maeena founded Jeddah United (JU), Saudi Arabia’s first private female basketball club. As the Saudi government did not license female gyms or clubs at the time, the club was controversial — and only a few private schools offered sports for girls. Armed with data showing the relationship between sports and physical health, Ms. Maeena turned to grass-root activism and soon found support within the community (often through social media). “She has pushed the envelope for girls and women in sports, health and exercise, while simultaneously staying within the parameters of Saudi society,” says Deborah Packwood, an international sports consultant.