How Saudi Aramco’s sports sponsorship is bridging golf and empowerment in the Kingdom

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Saudi Aramco sponsored the Saudi Ladies International Golf Tournament last week, which made history as the first professional women’s golf tournament held in Saudi Arabia.

It is the second major sports sponsorship this year for Aramco, the world’s largest integrated oil and gas company, which announced its first global sponsorship of a major sporting event – Formula 1 – in March.

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Al Arabiya English interviewed Aramco’s Senior Vice President of Human Resources and Corporate Service Nabeel Jama about Aramco’s history of launching golf in Saudi Arabia, female empowerment, and the future of golf in the Kingdom.

Q: Why did Aramco choose to sponsor the Saudi Ladies International Golf Tournament? What is Aramco’s connection to golf?

JAMA: First and foremost, Aramco was instrumental in introducing the game to the Kingdom, having built its first golf course in 1945, a nine-hole sand course north of Dhahran.

The company went on to build courses in Ras Tanura, Abqaiq and Udhailiyah. Our pride - The Rolling Hills Golf Club (RHGC) - opened in 1949 in Dhahran and is in use until today.

In 1966, the first ever Saudi Arabian Invitational Tournament was played in Dhahran. It is still the longest running Golf Invitational Tournament in the Middle East. It was won this past year (in 2019) by our own employee Othman Al-Mulla, the first professional Saudi Arabian golfer to play on the European Tour.

Now we are excited to sponsor Saudi Arabia’s first-ever professional women’s golf tournament. By partnering with Saudi Golf and sponsoring the Saudi Ladies International Golf tournament, we are showing our support and commitment to women’s inclusion in sports, in keeping with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 to empower the Kingdom’s female population.

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The tournament is a milestone for the Kingdom and will promote positive values in the community, and we believe it will encourage female participation in golf and other sports.

Q: This major athletic event is scheduled just before Saudi Arabia will host the G20 conference on November 21. Despite the coronavirus pandemic posing many obstacles in 2020, the Kingdom is having a momentous year. Can you describe how it feels to be making history and how the country continues to progress despite COVID-19 obstacles?

JAMA: This is a historic moment for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and for female sport in the Kingdom. The Aramco Saudi Ladies International Golf Tournament is the first-ever professional women’s golf event in Saudi Arabia and will help to inspire Saudi female citizens and residents to follow their passion for sports and athletic pursuits.

As the world and the Kingdom have been grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic for most of the year, Aramco remained resolute in its commitment to safeguarding and protecting its people, while also achieving several historic milestones. These include continuing to supply the energy needs of the Kingdom and the wider world safely and reliably, growing the company’s business portfolio and expanding into new businesses and markets, and helping to protect the natural environment wherever we operate.

These accomplishments are a testament to our operational resilience, strong financial position, and technological prowess, all of which are helping Saudi Aramco navigate an otherwise very challenging environment.

Q: Golf tends to be seen as a male-dominated sport. By hosting this event, the Kingdom is drawing attention to the talent of female golf players. How does the field of athletics fit into women’s empowerment?

JAMA: The Aramco Saudi Ladies Golf Tournament is one of the first professional ladies’ sports events in the history of the Kingdom. That makes this competition an exciting way to encourage women not only to play golf, but also to be active and enjoy the outdoors. We’re all inspired by seeing top professionals do what they do best, so for Saudi women to see for themselves the outstanding Ladies European Tour golfers in action, we believe it will open up the sport to women in Saudi Arabia.

Beyond the obvious physical benefits of participating in golf, or any other sports, there are multiple benefits including building self-esteem, overcoming gender stereotypes, providing opportunities for leadership, and encouraging younger generations of women to become more competitive and motivated to achieve greatness – be it a trophy in a sports tournament, employee of the month in her place of work, or the leader of a world-class organization.

Q: How has Aramco been a pioneer for women in the workplace and an advocate for female citizens in the Kingdom?

JAMA: At Aramco, we have an ecosystem for female empowerment including a range of business, leadership, and mentoring programs to fast-track the development and advancement of our female employees.

Saudi females now comprise petroleum engineers working in the field, scientists in our R&D centers conducting future-altering research, energy traders selling our products to customers around the world, inventors developing revolutionary new processes and products, and thousands of other women making a difference every day.

We believe that the truly inspirational stories of our female employees will have a positive knock-on effect for other Saudi women in their communities, motivating them to join the workforce and contribute to building a stronger, more diverse economy and an even more prosperous nation.

Q: What is the future of golf in the Kingdom and how does Aramco fit into the picture?

Sponsoring major international sporting events reflects our continued support for the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, as does our ongoing work with Saudi Golf as it continues to grow the sport across the Kingdom.

We strongly believe Saudi Golf will grow the sport in the Kingdom as more people have an opportunity to play for themselves.

The Kingdom enjoys more than eight months of perfect weather for this sport every year, where people can enjoy the fresh air and physical activity. As more tournaments take place in the Kingdom, and more golf courses are opened in different locations, we are certain the sport will grow increasingly popular within Saudi society.

Our commitment to the well-being of our communities will contribute to the Kingdom’s progress in promising sectors such as tourism, and in further enhancing the quality of life for citizens and residents. The world of sport has the power to enrich the lives and fuel the dreams of the Kingdom’s youth – our most important resource.

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