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Fitness and Sport for Expats in Saudi Arabia

Submitted: July 2014

For expats, the opportunity to indulge in sport and fitness outside compounds is largely confined to males only. Up until 2010 women were able to use women-only gyms and fitness centres, but in 2010 these were shut down permanently by the religious police.

The main that way women can have access to sport and fitness facilities is to live in a compound (or know someone that does), as many of these have their own gyms, swimming pools and other facilities such as tennis courts. The Diplomatic Quarter in Riyadh also has gyms, swimming pools and fitness centres for women, and once in the DQ the dress code is more relaxed, and women can even drive cars. In addition, women can join expat social hiking/running groups such as the Hash House Harriers (HHH) and the Riyadh Road Runners. There are approximately 10 HHH groups in Saudi Arabia, and each organizes events such as hiking/running trips out into the desert. These are non-competitive social events, which give women a rare permitted opportunity to be out and about without the necessity to wear an abaya. These are a great opportunity to meet other expats and do some networking. In addition, they offer the added benefit of some truly stunning desert scenery.

For men, there are plenty of opportunities for sport in Saudi Arabia. Football is a very popular sport in Saudi Arabia, and while there are some official clubs, most of the games are impromptu affairs that can take place on any suitable piece of open ground. Evenings are a popular time for these games, giving you a chance to wind down after work. Golf is also popular and there are over ten courses in Saudi Arabia, most of which will allow non-members to play. The Asir National Park is a popular hiking destination for expat visitors, not least because it stays cool in summer. It is largely unspoilt natural vegetation with an abundance of walking trails. There are over 60 campsites which provide basic facilities for visitors. Beyond that, what you choose to do there is up to you.

Water sports are readily available in Saudi Arabia, and it is possible to hire equipment such as jet skis at many popular spots. Swimming and snorkelling are also popular and cheap, and the unpolluted crystal clear waters around the coasts abound with fish and corals. Diving is a popular activity for expats and the seas around Saudi Arabia offer some excellent diving spots. Tuition is available in several places. For the more experienced, boat diving offers some spectacular opportunities; Boiler Wreck offers an excellent wreck dive, Farasan Bank is another popular destination.   

The annual Janadriyah Festival in Riyadh which is generally held in February offers an opportunity to watch some traditional Saudi sports. The highlight is the camel racing, but there is also horse racing with some of the finest Arab horses in the world taking part. It is also a place to see falconry.

If cycling is your thing, you should be aware that cycling on Saudi roads is probably not advisable. Saudi drivers can pay little attention to lanes, are happy to drive on verges around blockages and can treat the whole excersise like a game of Burnout. They are also happy to play at drifting in moving traffic as shown here. You have been warned.




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