FeaturedThe Work

How sports is inspiring Saudis to defy restrictive norms and expectations

In August 2023, the Saudi Sports for All Federation (SFA) launched the Museum of Extinct Mobility, a virtual reality experience that alerted Saudis to what a dystopian motionless life would look like if they were to continue with a sedentary lifestyle.

Over 14,000 participants engaged with the virtual museum in just one month, and what has become an awakening campaign succeeded in driving 710,000 actions and sparking vital conversations about physical activity.

But the impact of the “MoveYourWorldInitiative” went beyond encouraging physical activity in Saudi Arabia.

In follow up to the innovative use of virtual reality, the SFA campaign leveraged the power of storytelling by documenting five inspiring life stories of men and women from different generations.

Teaming up with Shahid, SFA reached out to those who spend days binge-watching and are leading a life-threatening lifestyle.

This sedentary audience was exposed to personal stories of inspiring Saudi individuals who succeeded in pursuing a life-changing journey driven by  movement.

Titled “Movement is the Start”, the five episodes offered a cinematic experience and the opportunity to ride an emotional rollercoaster that defy societal expectations with movement. For the showcased, movement served as the catalyst for passion, change, freedom, health and life.

The episodes stimulated conversations in all directions. Saudis soon found themselves reflecting on the nomadic Bedouin lifestyle of their ancestors, and the movement from one place to another that was once part of their history.

Saudi women also reflected on orchestrated social norms that once prohibited their own movement, forcing them to become not only physically inactive but also mentally exhausted.

Youth also came to realize the urgency of taking life-changing decisions that relate to how they interact with the changing public space that they now have access to.

The wide-range reaction of the public to these episodes went beyond expectations, and it was clear that many times it takes people-centered campaigns that revolve around normal individuals and not high-rated influencers to drive change in a society.

The stories of Nadima and Maram spoke of gender stereotypes around women’s physical activity and their insistence to take part in fun activities such as bike riding and roller skating.

And the comments on the episodes showed that the impact of this campaign is profound: “I’ve never seen this side in my people”, “Maram spoke to me on many levels. I have always wanted to skate but was afraid to go against my society,” and “Finally, an authentic real Saudi Story above movement”.

It was also stories of an older generation that continues to connect with nature and one that found in movement solace after retiring. “Murad is a great example for my father. He is retiring now and is afraid to lose meaning and purpose in life,” said one viewer after watching the Murad episode.

These campaigns showed how sports is contributing to a cultural transformation in Saudi Arabia, away from a sedentary urbanization and towards one that is rich and fulfilling at all levels and for all people and that reconnects Saudis to their roots.