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Insider Perspectives on Saudi Arabia’s Fakher Disability Sports Programme

Department of Physical Education, College of Education, King Faisal University, Al-Ahsa 31982, Saudi Arabia
University Town Writing Programme, National University of Singapore, Singapore 117511, Singapore
Centre for Sport and Exercise Sciences, Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur 50603, Malaysia
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Sustainability 2022, 14(17), 10706;
Submission received: 11 July 2022 / Revised: 15 August 2022 / Accepted: 25 August 2022 / Published: 28 August 2022


In recent years, Saudi Arabia has made many efforts to support people with disabilities. One of these efforts is the Fakher Programme Initiative. The programme provides substantial financial support and training for around 350 para-athletes with physical disabilities or cerebral palsy. This research sought to provide a thick description of the programme’s aims, its successes, and the challenges faced, based on the reports of significant stakeholders. In-depth interviews with 26 participants from different stakeholder groups (para-athletes, coaches, administrators, para-athlete families, individuals interested in para-sports, and the CEO of the Fakher Programme) were conducted individually to provide rich insider perspectives. An interpretive phenomenological analysis approach was applied to analyse the interviews. Two main dimensions were identified: (i) the positive impacts of the Fakher Programme Initiative and (ii) further recommended improvements to the Fakher Programme Initiative. Although most of the participants expressed positive perspectives on the programme (e.g., developing collaboration, health benefits, infrastructural support, and raising awareness of people with disabilities), improvements can be made in the form of psychological support for elite para-athletes in training and more developed national and international media coverage of disability sports in Saudi Arabia.

1. Introduction

According to the Social Model of Disability, people with a disability are stigmatized in our societies as imperfect and requiring assistance. The focus on physical difference as the main problem stems from the authority of the dominant Medical Model of Disability. The negative attitudes towards people with a disability undermines the validity of sport for disabled people as real sport. As a result, the Paralympics is a “marginal, deviant sports event as opposed to an elite sport competition involving athletes” [1] (p. 392). To respond to this ideology, Paralympics activists encourage people with a disability to participate in elite levels of sport and to demonstrate sporting excellence [2]. Thus, the growth of infrastructures to develop effective athlete development systems is essential. Another serious problem for the growth of the Paralympics movement is marginalisation in the media. As Purdue [1] and Smith [3] pointed out, it has long been established that live or recorded coverage of the Olympics occurs to a much greater extent than of the Paralympics.
Despite the relatively small following in comparison to the Olympics, and the one-year postponement due to COVID-19, it was estimated that the 2020 Summer Paralympics in Japan was viewed by an audience of around 4.25 billion [4], an increase from the estimated 4.1 billion of the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games [5]. More than 4400 athletes from 162 countries participated in the 2020 Games including athletes from 14 countries across the Middle East and North Africa region. In total, 90 medals were won by athletes from Algeria, Cyprus, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates. Saudi Arabia is hoping to increase this success by developing a sustainable inclusive sports ecosystem through the Fakher Programme Initiative.
On 4 July 2021, the Saudi Ministry of Sports launched the Fakher Programme Initiative to implement adaptive sports opportunities for people with physical disabilities [6]. The use of the term “Fakher” (proud) represents how all Saudis support and are proud of the 350 Saudi athletes, trainers, and physiotherapists involved in the programme. The programme engages 350 Saudi people with disabilities annually and focuses on their rehabilitation and integration into the national and international sports community by providing them with a suitable sports environment and implementing a range of high-level sports rehabilitation and training programmes [6]. Programme activities include the provision of all health and physical rehabilitation services, as well as training in the most appropriate sport, namely shooting, weightlifting, basketball, and athletics. The programme also provides prostheses and sports chairs to all participants according to their needs and organizes three local and foreign camps, with the participation of coaches and physiotherapists, organising competitions that strengthen the participants’ abilities to practice their sports leisure in a professional way. Towards the end of the year, the best participants are placed in sports clubs in order to continue training and practicing their favourite sport permanently. The Fakher Programme is organized by the Saudi Arabian Paralympic Committee and the criteria for access to the first stage are as follows: male Saudi citizen with physical disability or cerebral palsy, aged from 14–60 years old, able to practice sports activities, and able to travel abroad and participate in local and overseas camps.
However, despite the growth in support and popularity of Paralympics in the Arab community, some authors [7,8] argued that there is still a significant research void at the intersection between disability and sport. Some studies exist on the United Arab Emirates (UAE) [8,9,10,11], but little else in the Arabian gulf. In their virtual ethnographic study of perceptions of disability in the UAE, Perkin and Howe [8] reported that there are mixed attitudes surrounding people with both intellectual and physical disabilities. They concur with prior findings from Crabtree [12] that adult daughters and children with disabilities tend to be encouraged to stay at home. Moreover, Alborno and Gaad [10] pointed out that employment for people with disabilities appears to be treated as an act of charity rather than a right in the UAE. Notwithstanding these issues, Perkin and Howe [8] were quick to point out that Islamic culture has a positive attitude towards disability as presented in Qur’anic and Hadith teachings.
Currently, little is known of the Paralympic movement in Saudi Arabia. In one recent study [13] exploring 11 nations’ media coverage of the 2016 Paralympic Games, it was found that the two highest circulated newspapers in Saudi Arabia, Al-Jazeera and Al-Riyadh, only covered a total of two days of the competition. This suggests possible similarities with the UAE regarding attitudes and treatment towards people with disabilities. However, no conclusions can be formed without further research in the field. Consequently, this study is timely as it uncovered, through in-depth qualitative interviews, the experiences, perspectives, and views from insiders working in the new Saudi Fakher disability sports programme. Reports from the programme’s para-athletes, coaches, administrators, para-athlete families, individuals interested in para-sports, and the CEO of the Fakher Programme are explored. The study is the first of its kind focusing on the new developments in Saudi Arabia’s Paralympic ambitions.

2. Materials and Methods

This qualitative study aimed to provide an in-depth exploration of the Fakher disability sports programme’s aims, successes, and challenges faced, based on the reports of significant stakeholders in Saudi Arabia. Specifically, the objectives of this study were: (1) to deeply explore the aims of the Fakher disability sports programme from various perspectives (para-athletes, coaches, administrators, para-athlete families, individuals interested in para-sports, and the CEO of the Fakher Programme in Saudi Arabia), (2) to deeply explore the Fakher disability sports programme’s success from the perspectives of various stakeholders, and (3) to deeply explore the challenges the Fakher disability sports programme may face from various stakeholders.

2.1. Procedures

After receiving ethical approval from the Research Ethics Committee at King Faisal University (KFU-REC-2021-NOV-EA000180), suitable participants were invited to participate via the Fakher Programme administration. Those who agreed to participate were given an information sheet detailing the aims and purpose of the study and an informed consent form to sign. The data collection stage involved two phases: (i) ten-minute pilot interviews with 33 participants designed to gather information on their educational background and previous experiences with sports or para-sports; these data were used to create the main interview questions; and (ii) three weeks after the pilot interviews, 26 participants who agreed to participate in the main study were interviewed. All interviews were carried out via phone because the participants were located in different cities across Saudi Arabia. Interviews lasted between 25–30 min. All interviews were audio-recorded and then transcribed verbatim.

2.2. Participants

The sample (N = 26) was composed of para-athletes (n = 12), coaches (n = 4), administrators (n = 3), family members of para-athletes (n = 4), individuals interested in para-sports (n = 2), and the CEO of the Fakher Programme (n = 1) (men: n = 24; women: n = 2). The participants were aged from 24–58 years old (M = 39.52 years old; SD = 9.64 years) (see Table 1). The participants were selected via purposive sampling of those involved in the 2021 Fakher Programme. Table 1 provides detailed demographic and disability- or sports-related information about the participants.

2.3. Instrument

Face-to-face, in-depth, individual, guide method interviews were conducted with participants to investigate their experiences, perspectives, and views of the 2021 Fakher Programme. By restricting the topics to be discussed based on the interviewees’ background and differences, the guide method makes conducting several interviews more methodical and detailed [14]. The researchers followed a suggestion by McGrath et al. [15] that interviews should begin with relatively easy warm-up questions to build rapport between the interviewers and interviewees before transitioning to more in-depth questions targeting the participants’ experiences, perspectives, and views of the 2021 Fakher Programme. Initially, to gather background information that informed the content of the main interviews, initial information-gathering interviews that assessed demographics and data to select participants and group interviewees were conducted with 33 participants. As the participants were categorised into different groups (para-athletes, coaches, administrators, para-athlete families, individuals interested in para-sports, and the CEO of the Fakher Programme), customised interview schedules were formulated for each group. For example, the interview questions for the para-athletes group included “What are your overall perspectives on the Fakher Programme?” and “Explain why you decided to join the Fakher Programme?”; questions to coaches included “Tell me about how the Fakher Programme can be successfully implemented?” and “How would you describe your experiences with the Fakher Programme?”; questions to administrators included “Can you tell me what the aims of the Fakher Programme are?” and “What has been done so far in the Fakher Programme?”; questions to family members of para-athletes included “As a family member of a person with a disability, tell me how the Fakher Programme has benefitted him/her?” and “As a family member of a person with a disability, what are your expectations of the Fakher Programme?”; and questions to those interested in para-sports included “Tell me how the aims of the Fakher Programme can be achieved?” and “To what extent do you think the Fakher Programme can play a crucial role in raising awareness of disability sports in Saudi Arabia?” Finally, questions to the CEO of the Fakher Programme included “How did the Fakher Programme come about?” and “What resources are available for supporting participating para-athletes on the Fakher Programme?”

2.4. Data Analysis

To investigate the participants’ experiences, perspectives, and views of the Fakher Programme, the researchers adopted an interpretive phenomenological analysis approach [16]. Rather than setting out to support or refute a given hypothesis, interpretative phenomenological analysis involves the researchers attempting to inductively capture and explore the meanings participants attach to their experiences of the phenomena under investigation [17], in this case, the Fakher Programme. These meanings are then codified into themes to provide an overview of the phenomena [18]. In the current project, identifying and codifying the main themes involved five steps. First, the researchers carefully read and re-read the interview transcripts to familiarise themselves with the content. Second, commonly emerging patterns––as well as less frequently appearing patterns that provided useful information on the participants’ views, perspectives, and experiences of the Fakher Programme––were identified from the interview content; each distinct pattern was assigned an individual code. Third, the researchers inductively identified and organised these emergent codes [19] to produce the preliminary themes. Fourth, these preliminary themes were defined and named, before the fifth and final step, which involved the preliminary themes being organised into the final themes.

3. Results

The interpretative phenomenological thematic analysis [17] revealed two main dimensions that participants attached to their involvement with the Fakher Project: (i) the positive impacts of the Fakher Programme and (ii) further recommended improvements to the Fakher Programme. These dimensions emerged from 45 frequently occurring themes and sub-themes drawn from the raw data; these were organised into eight first-order sub-themes and seven second-order sub-themes. These first- and second-order themes are presented and exemplified in interview extracts (see Table 2).

3.1. The Positive Impacts of the Fakher Project

This dimension described the findings emerging from 41 raw data themes and their respective six second-order sub-themes.

3.1.1. Provides Entry into and Participation in Top-Level Competitions

Participants view the Fakher Project as valuable because it provides a platform for people with disabilities to become involved in para-sports, and athletic talents to be nurtured. It also acts as a way into participation in national and international tournaments. For example, as a coach explained, “The programme empowers people with disabilities through para-sports, focusing on how to make them into champions; like what happened in the West Asian competition; some of the players who participated and won medals only started entering para-sports competitions after the Fakher programme”.

3.1.2. Developing Collaboration amongst Different Stakeholders Involved in the Programme

Participants reported that the Fakher Project improved communication and collaboration between all participants involved and was a useful forum for the exchange of experiences related to para-sports and team building. The programme enabled coaches to improve their training skills with para-athletes and facilitated collaboration with international coaches. It was also important for building friendships between para-athletes and fostering contact with people with disabilities from the general public. For example, as one participant reported, “I also benefited from collaborating with international coaches and getting to know different types of disabilities and a new society…”. Another participant pointed out that “…coach? through the [Fakher] programme, para-athletes create friendships with their peers…share their experiences…”.

3.1.3. Health Benefits

The Fakher Project improves the quality of life of its participants in terms of physical and psychological health benefits. For instance, the participants reported that the programme has improved their physical condition and fitness. Additionally, several psychological benefits were brought up including promoting happiness and positive feelings, improving confidence, encouraging goal setting and ambition, and enhancing self-esteem, self-reliance, and self-empowerment. Speaking about his son (a para-athlete in the programme) one participant added, “…in terms of the physical aspects, his hands are better and stronger than before, even his body and fitness are now better…”. Another participant revealed:
“I saw that their [the para-athletes’] psychological state has been changed in a very positive way. For example, a mother of one of the para-athletes involved in the programme stated that before joining the programme, her son had been very socially isolated, he did not want to get out of the house, but [after joining the programme] his psychological status changed. He is now interacting with people around him, talking to them, laughing, going out and playing.”

3.1.4. Infrastructural Support

Governmental support in terms of financial and administrative aid are now breaking down barriers to participation. Participants also reported the development of sponsorship opportunities. Access to local and overseas camps is now available through the Programme. Participants also reported access to wheelchairs and prosthesis, as well as physiotherapy and rehabilitation treatment. For example, several interviewees reported that the programme is a success because of the much-needed support it provides to para-athletes and their families. One participant stated, “The Saudi government plays a significant role in the success of the programme… monthly payments [approximately 800 USD) are given to all involved.” Another participant added:
“The most important thing is providing free prosthesis and sports wheelchairs; if he loses one of his limbs, a person cannot be a para-athlete unless he is provided with a high-quality prosthetic limb…, our Saudi government has provided high-quality limbs even for beginners in para-sports, despite their high prices.”

3.1.5. Raising Awareness of People with Disabilities

According to participants, the programme has enhanced social inclusion for para-athletes and improved public awareness of para-sports. For example, as one participant highlighted:
“In fact, the programme greatly increases awareness, especially among the public; Some people [before Fakher programme started], when I used to tell them that my son [a para-athlete on the programme] plays in a club for people with disabilities in Riyadh [the Saudi capital], they say ‘where is this club? We have never heard about it, and are there sports for people with disabilities in Saudi Arabia?’… In fact, this programme introduces the public to para-athletes, introduces them [para-athletes] to society, and takes them [para-athletes] to another world of competition to prove their existence, and that they are able to do many things…”

3.1.6. Addressing the Urgent Issue of Supporting Para-Athletes

Participants underlined how the Fakher Programme is a solution to addressing the urgent issue of supporting para-athletes in Saudi Arabia. For example, as one participant reported:
“Indeed, this experience [with the programme] made me focus on my goals; sometimes a person is doing exercises only for himself without any ambition, but the Fakher Programme has developed my ambitions, increased my goals, and I will achieve them.”
Moreover, participants hope to continue their involvement in the long term.

3.2. Further Recommended Improvements to the Fakher Programme

The second dimension emerging from the raw data is further recommended improvements to the Fakher Programme. For example, the participants reported that more psychologists and social workers were needed to provide support to participants and that more appropriate facilities were required to cater to those in the programme. To illustrate the above points, one participant reported, “Although the overseas camp was great, I wish there were more psychologists and social workers to help us overcome the difficulties of being away from parents and family”. Another participant reported, “Although the programme is in general successful and effective, there are some factors that should be reconsidered, such as the lack of appropriate facilities to fully rehabilitate people with disabilities, especially in the internal camps.” This sentiment was echoed by another participant:
“One of the most important challenges in implementing the programme, especially in the internal camp, is the difference in capabilities and facilities between the different regions of Saudi Arabia… It is natural that the camps in Riyadh are better than other regions because it is the capital...”
Additionally, a greater number of qualified coaches are needed. Finally, the issue of media coverage was mentioned; specifically, the participants opined that the media should pay more attention to the programme, which would presumably raise its profile and help it to attract more sponsorship.

4. Discussion

Overall, the findings indicate that the participants agreed that the Fakher Programme Initiative has been successfully implemented. Moreover, the findings fall into two dimensions: (i) the positive impacts of the Fakher Programme Initiative and (ii) further recommended improvements to the Fakher Programme Initiative.

4.1. The Positive Impacts of the Fakher Programme Initiative

This dimension emerged from several sub-themes. On the first sub-theme (providing entry into and participation in top-level competitions), most participants reported that one crucial aim of the programme was preparing those involved to participate in para-sports and become para-sports champions. This reflects the significant efforts made by the programme’s decision makers in Saudi Arabia towards preparing people with disabilities to become para-athletes in the Paralympic Games and improving their quality of life. Several countries have made a variety of efforts to provide opportunities for people with disabilities to become para-athletes and Paralympians. For example, in Asia, Singapore and Malaysia have made strong inroads in developing effective Paralympic initiatives that seek to offer equal opportunities for para-athletes and their able-bodied counterparts [20]. Malaysia, but not Singapore (about 1/3 in Singapore), offers the same financial rewards and support (e.g., post-athletic career programmes) to both para-athletes and able-bodied athletes [21]. Thus, these efforts may be reflected in the future of Asian countries in the upcoming Paralympic Games.
In relation to the second sub-theme (developing collaboration amongst different stakeholders involved in the programme), the participants expressed how the programme had enabled them to collaborate with others involved in the initiative, such as coaches and para-athletes. Facilitating effective collaboration among its participants is one of the main focuses of the programme: It underlines the importance of creating a spirit of mutual help and understanding among participants to support its success and desired aims. Indeed, those with a disability tend to have smaller friendship networks [22] and struggle to establish meaningful relationships with other individuals with disabilities [23]. Therefore, supporting ongoing engagement in para-sports for those with disabilities provides a valuable opportunity to fulfil the essential human need for socialisation that may otherwise go unmet [24]. Bastos et al. [25] reported that the lack of collaboration and support offered by coaches and training partners harmed the para-athletes’ psychological preparation. In this respect, the results indicate that the Fakher Programme Initiative provided opportunities for those with disabilities to establish supportive relationships with their peers. As Sales and Misener [24] reported, the development pathways of those with disabilities depend on establishing such relationships with peers who share similar disabilities.
On the third sub-theme (health benefits), most of the participants reported that the programme had had a positive impact on their psychological and physical health. As the previous literature (e.g., [26,27]) suggests, involvement in sport positively affects the self-esteem and emotional well-being of those with disabilities (e.g., those with physical disabilities) by supporting them in achieving success in their respective sports-related goals, enhancing their self-confidence. Indeed, for those with a disability, participating in sports can reduce psychological stress caused by social exclusion, thereby enhancing their mental health and well-being [28]. Any programme implemented to aid those with disabilities should focus on improving psychological and physical health, with the former playing a crucial role in the rehabilitation and preparation of para-athletes. Ballas et al.’s [27] study of ten individuals with disabilities found that 30% of them reported that participating in sports had enabled them to overcome mental health issues and avoid risk-taking behaviours. As research on sports psychology has only begun to focus on athletes with disabilities over the last two decades [29], the current study’s findings provide a valuable contribution to the literature by exploring the effect of schemes, such as the Fakher Programme Initiative, that are dedicated to preparing world-class para-athletes. In terms of the physical benefits, Ballas et al.’s [27] paper suggested that participation in sports provides a multitude of benefits for those with disabilities including improved physical health, such as greater strength and physical abilities. Participation in sports of those with physical disabilities has well-established health benefits including a lower risk of developing chronic diseases [30].
On the fourth sub-theme (infrastructural support), most participants reported that the Fakher Programme Initiative’s provision of continuous support, e.g., free equipment such as wheelchairs and artificial limbs, as well as financial support, had a positive impact on the programme’s success. Financial support is critical to the success of any such programme. Bastos et al. [25] investigated this aspect among 14 Portuguese elite athletes with disabilities; the participants reported that a lack of financial support was one of the main factors limiting their ability to train and compete; poor financial support was a crucial stress factor that hampered them in purchasing the equipment required for wheelchair basketball. Relatedly, a study carried out in Malaysia by Wilson and Khoo [31] found that funding was a crucial barrier for para-athletes. Interestingly, a recent study by Oggero et al. [32] indicated that, compared to lower-income countries, high-income countries are more likely to send para-athletes to the Paralympic Games and achieve notable sporting success; therefore, Saudi Arabia’s wealth and the financial support it is able to provide to participants involved in the Fakher Programme Initiative likely plays an important role in the programme’s success. The success of the programme is expected to be reflected in the greater participation of those with disabilities in para-sports and consequent improved national achievements for Saudi Arabia in the Paralympic Games, which is the most important goal of the Fakher Programme Initiative. In sum, better-funded para-athletes who are well-rewarded, professionally trained, and comprise larger teams are more likely to have greater motivation and opportunities to succeed [33].
Concerning the fifth sub-theme (raising awareness of people with disabilities), the majority of the participants professed that the Fakher Programme Initiative had increased social inclusion and awareness of people with disabilities in sports. It has long been hoped that promoting Paralympic sports can be leveraged to dissolve the social impediments for those with disabilities to participate in sports and improve the attitudes of the able-bodied towards them by focusing spectators’ attention on the sporting achievements of para-athletes instead of on their disability [34,35]. Therefore, the results of the present study go some way to suggesting that the Fakher Programme Initiative has made a valuable contribution to fulfilling these hopes. Indeed, as Ballas et al. [27] pointed out, ensuring that the provision for athletes with disabilities is commensurate with that given to able-bodied athletes, and enhancing social inclusion for para-athletes, are critical in raising self-esteem and confidence among those with disabilities. The results of the present study indicate that these twin aims are squarely addressed by the Fakher Programme Initiative by helping to overcome the difficulties that such athletes face and putting them on an even footing with their able-bodied peers. These outcomes reflect one of the main objectives of para-sports: to create more inclusivity for those with impairments by focusing on promoting hope, equality, and humanity despite differences in physical appearance or ability [32]. More broadly, Ballas et al. [27] suggested that promoting the participation of those with disabilities in sports confers widespread social benefits, such as enhancing the social awareness of para-athletes and improving social integration among spectators and all athletes, whether able-bodied or with disabilities.
The sixth sub-theme (addressing the urgent issue of supporting para-athletes) highlighted that the participants felt that the Fakher Programme Initiative provided a useful solution to addressing the urgent issue of providing proper support for para-athletes in Saudi Arabia. Relatedly, the Saudi government has made many efforts to support people with disabilities over the past five years, especially in terms of sports. For example, according to the latest report by the Saudi Human Rights Commission for the United Nations, the Saudi government allocated over USD 1332 billion in 2021 to support those with disabilities across various fields; one Saudi Paralympian received 1,000,000 Saudi riyals (USD 266,481) for winning a bronze medal at the Tokyo Paralympics in 2020. That said, there was a remarkable difference between this amount and that awarded to an able-bodied Saudi Olympian (5,000,000 Saudi riyals (US USD 1,332,407) for his Olympic silver at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. Although it may appear superficially that there was a significant discrepancy between the reward given to the Paralympian and that awarded to his able-bodied peer, this difference was accountable to other considerations, namely the arbitrary injustice suffered by the Saudi Olympian that prevented him from winning the gold at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Brooke and Khoo [20] discussed the disparities between Paralympians and their able-bodied counterparts in their qualitative study of the issue comparing athletes in Singapore and Malaysia. They reported that a Singaporean Paralympian received USD 147,000 for winning the Paralympic gold while her able-bodied peer received USD 737,000 for his gold. Such discrepancies were not reported between Paralympians and their able-bodied counterparts in Malaysia: In the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games, Malaysian Paralympian winners received USD 240,000 as did their fellow Olympian counterparts [20]. These inequalities strongly reflect the orientation and policies of countries towards supporting sports for athletes with disabilities. These findings also underline the value of the Fakher Programme Initiative’s vision and mission in providing the necessary financial and practical support for the participants to enable them to qualify for international world-class sporting events like the Paralympic Games.

4.2. Further Recommended Improvements to the Fakher Programme

This is the second dimension revealed by the present study. The participants explained the need for additional improvements to the programme to raise its quality of provision; for example, the need for psychologists to be on hand to provide support. This need is not surprising: A Portuguese study reported that the elite para-athletes that were interviewed expressed a need for psychological assistance in the preparation stages [25] and cited Brazil as an excellent example of a country that provided para-athletes with access to psychologists during sporting events. Here, one striking concordance between the present study and the work of Bastos et al. [25] is the need expressed by the participants to have access to psychologists and the latter study’s focus on the importance of psychological preparation for para-athletes. This highlights that the participants in the current study were well aware of the importance of psychological support during the preparation stages, while Bastos et al.’s [25] study indicated the participants’ need to be better informed about how important psychological preparation and psychological coping skills training are to para-athletes. Therefore, it is recommended that the decision makers in the Fakher Programme Initiative should consider providing access to psychologists to enable para-athletes to overcome the challenges and difficulties they may face during and after completing the programme.
Finally, the participants expressed the need for more media coverage that emphasises the importance and significance of sports for people with disabilities. This aspect corresponds with the findings of other studies in this area, which conclude that the media still has a long way to go to improve their portrayal of Paralympians by avoiding sensationalised depictions [20,31,36]. The demand for more media coverage of people with disabilities in sports that was revealed in the present study may be due to the participants’ felt need to raise the level of awareness and promote positive social attitudes towards people with disabilities and their participation in sports. Indeed, the media has a crucial role to play in changing the attitudes of (able-bodied) society towards people with disabilities in general and in para-sports specifically. For example, the social model of disability [37] illustrates how changing the attitudes of able-bodied society towards people with disabilities is a significant element in improving the quality of life of the latter. Therefore, as pointed out by Cheong et al. [13], ample and constructive media coverage is crucial in encouraging those with physical disabilities to participate and excel in para-sports at the highest levels, which will in turn facilitate more positive attitudes towards those with disabilities in wider society.

5. Practical Applications

It is hoped that the study’s findings will be of benefit to leaders and decision makers involved in the Fakher Programme by providing a detailed evaluation of the views, perspectives, and experiences of service users and staff involved in these early stages of the Fakher Programme. In addition, the researchers hope that the findings will be useful in establishing baseline data on how well the programme is being implemented at this early stage. Taken together, these findings will then hopefully provide insights for developing evidence-based strategies to support the programme’s next stages, as well as providing a comprehensive description of the programme’s aims, successes, and challenges, which may encourage other countries to adopt such initiatives.

6. Study Limitations

The results should be interpreted with consideration of the study design limitations. First, the data recorded and analysed were based solely on self-reported responses to questions posed to participants. Therefore, the possibility of social desirability bias cannot be ruled out. This bias occurs when participants are afraid of losing interest or want to encourage leaders to support the programme. However, the anonymous online interview process, the confidentiality of statements guaranteed by our team to participants, and the purely scientific purpose of the study may have reduced the risk of social desirability bias. Second, the programme has just started, it is in its first phase (first year), and we are still far from talking about objective measures that reflect its effectiveness in improving Saudi sport for people with disabilities (e.g., better results in medical tests, better results in sports com-petitions, and better mental state as measured by psychological tests). Thus, further studies should be conducted to see the real impact of the programme.

7. Conclusions

This qualitative study aimed to provide an in-depth exploration of the aims, successes, and challenges of the Fakher Programme Initiative from the perspective of significant stakeholders in Saudi Arabia. It sampled a total of 26 participants from different stakeholder groups (administrators, para-athletes, coaches, administrators, family members of para-athletes, those interested in para-sports, and the CEO of the Fakher Programme Initiative) who were individually interviewed to gather data on their views, perspectives, and experiences of the programme. Findings fall into two dimensions: (i) the positive impacts of the Fakher Programme Initiative and (ii) further recommended improvements to the Fakher Programme Initiative. Overall, the findings indicate that the participants agreed that the Fakher Programme Initiative has been successfully implemented. However, although most participants agreed that the programme has been instrumental in developing collaboration, health benefits, infrastructural support, and raising the awareness of people with disabilities, some improvements can be made and provided to the programme to raise its quality of provision, particularly in the realm of psychological support for elite para-athletes in training. Further, interviewees expressed the need for more media coverage of sports for people with disabilities. With these improvements and the continuation of the Fakher Programme, the future is bright for para-sports and the Paralympic movement in Saudi Arabia.

Author Contributions

Conceptualization, M.M.A., M.B. and S.K.; methodology, M.M.A., M.B. and S.K.; validation, M.M.A., M.B. and S.K.; formal analysis, M.M.A.; investigation, M.M.A., M.B. and S.K.; resources, M.M.A., M.B. and S.K.; data curation, M.M.A.; writing—original draft preparation, M.M.A. and M.B.; writing—review and editing, M.M.A., M.B. and S.K.; visualization, M.M.A., M.B. and S.K.; supervision, M.B. and S.K.; project administration, M.M.A.; funding acquisition, M.M.A. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.


This research was funded by the Deanship of Scientific Research, King Faisal University, Saudi Arabia, grant number RA00016.

Institutional Review Board Statement

This study was conducted according to the guidelines of the Declaration of Helsinki, and approved by the Institutional Review Board (or Ethics Committee) of King Faisal University (protocol code KFU-REC-2021-NOV-EA000180, approved on 16 November 2021).

Informed Consent Statement

Informed consent was obtained from all subjects involved in the study.

Data Availability Statement

The data presented in this study are available on request from the corresponding author. The data are not publicly available due to confidentiality and anonymity of the research participants.


The authors acknowledge King Faisal University, Saudi Arabia for the financial support (Grant No. RA00016). The authors are grateful to all subjects who gave their time and effort to participate in this research project. Additionally, many thanks go to the Fakher Programme administration for their collaboration in facilitating access to subjects involved in this research project.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest. The funder had no role in the design of the study; in the collection, analyses, or interpretation of data; in the writing of the manuscript; or in the decision to publish the results.


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Table 1. Summary of participants’ characteristics.
Table 1. Summary of participants’ characteristics.
ParticipantGenderAgeType of SportType of DisabilityEducationMarital StatusExperiences in Sport
1Man54AthleticsPoliomyelitisBachelorsMarriedMember of a club for people with disabilities. Bronze medallist in powerlifting for people with motor disabilities.
2Man49AthleticsAmputation below the left kneeBachelorsMarriedTable tennis athlete at the Saudi Paralympic Federation. Participated in the indoor and outdoor Fakher camp in Spain.
3Man24AthleticsAmputation at the kneeDiplomaSinglePowerlifting and track athlete. Participant at a Fakher camp in Spain.
4Man28ShootingMotor disabilityBachelorsSingleParticipant at a Fakher camp held in Poland.
5Man30ShootingLower hemiplegiaBachelorsSingleParticipant in athletics championships and marathon for people with disabilities.
6Man42PowerliftingParaplegiaBachelorsMarriedParticipant at a Fakher camp held in Poland.
7Man34PowerliftingMotor disabilityBachelorsMarriedSecond place in the Saudi Powerlifting Championship for people with motor disabilities in Al-Ahsa and gold medallist at the Saudi Athletics Championships for people with motor and intellectual disabilities.
8Man39PowerliftingPoliomyelitisSecondaryMarriedPowerlifting, training, and advanced courses in diving. Achieved fourth place in the West Asian Powerlifting Championship.
9Man24PowerliftingStiff joints in the feetDiplomaSingleTwice won a gold medal at the World Championships and the Saudi Championships 17 times in first and second place.
10Man34Wheelchair basketballLower hemiplegiaDiplomaMarriedBodybuilder and basketball athlete in the Fakher Programme. Second and third places in basketball local competitions.
11Man28PowerliftingAmputation lower limbSecondarySingleBefore disability, used to play volleyball and football.
12Man35Wheelchair basketballLower hemiplegiaDiplomaSingleWheelchair basketball in Qasim club.
1Man50AthleticsNoneBachelorsWidowerCoach of al-Jouf Club for people with disabilities and first place in the Athletics Championships in Asia and North Africa.
2Man43Shooting air weaponsNoneDiplomaMarriedShooting instructor in the military sector in Saudi Arabia and abroad. A coach at the Saudi Shooting Federation.
3Man58Wheelchair basketballNoneDiplomaMarriedCourses in wheelchair training. Captain of Al Nasr Club and the Saudi National Team for basketball.
4Man39PowerliftingNoneSecondaryMarriedPrivate gym trainer and powerlifting coach for people with disabilities.
1Man45AthleticsNoneBachelorsMarriedAdministrator at Al Hilal Club. Third place in the Saudi Athletics and Gulf Championship. Saudi 800 meter former champion.
2Man50HandballNoneBachelorsMarriedWon three championships. Handball athlete in many clubs.
3Man45NoneNoneMastersMarriedTeam supervisor for two years at Riyadh Club. Javelin thrower former ranked sixth in the world.
Family members of para-athletes
1Man52Triple Chair RaceSpinal cord *BachelorsFather **A football athlete at Al Nasr Club.
2Man47AthleticsWeakness on the right side *BachelorsFather **Holds several local hurdles medals.
3Woman38PowerliftingSpinal cord *SecondaryMother **None
4Woman28AthleticsHemiplegia *Middle schoolWife **None
Individuals interested in para-sport
1Man32NoneNoneBachelorsMarriedHead of Project Management Office in Saudi Arabian Paralympic Committee.
Note: * family member’s disability; ** relationship to para-athlete.
Table 2. Participants’ experiences in Fakher Programme.
Table 2. Participants’ experiences in Fakher Programme.
Raw Data Themes1st Order Subthemes2nd Order SubthemesDimensions
Explore talents in para-sports (n = 13).Providing entry into and participation in top level competitionProviding entry into and participation in top level competitionThe positive impact of the Fakher Programme
Participation in para-sports (n = 11).
Become a para-sports champion (n = 7).
Participation in international tournaments (n = 12).
Coaches improve their experiences with para-athletes (n = 4).Developing collaboration amongst different stakeholders involved in the programmeDeveloping collaboration amongst different stakeholders involved in the programme
Collaborate with international coaches (n = 3).
Contact with people with disabilities (n = 1).
Exchange of experiences with others (n = 11).
Communicate with colleagues in the camp (n = 3).
Building friendship with other athletes (n = 11).
Collaboration between participants (n = 2).
Having team work with great experiences (n = 3).
Make them happy (n = 11).Psychological health benefitsHealth benefits
It is great feelings (n = 11).
Enhance confidence (n = 6).
Improving the psychological state (n = 17).
Making athletes to have new goals and ambitions (n = 3).
Improving the self-esteem (n = 10).
Improving the self-reliance (n = 6).
Improving the quality of life (n = 14).
Empowering para-athletes (n = 4).
Improving the physical state (n = 7).Physical health benefits
Improving the body fitness (n = 3).
Improving skills in specific sport (n = 7).
Having government support (n = 3).Infrastructural support providedSupport
Having local and overseas camps (n = 3).
Providing free equipment (wheelchairs and Artificial limbs) (n = 2).
Support and rehabilitation of athletes for different type of para-sports (n = 13).
Sponsored (n = 2).
More time training for athletes (n = 1).
Liked how the athletes being developed and the organisation of camps (n = 6).
Great services and organisation (n = 4).
Achieving financial benefits (n = 3).
No issues or challenges faced (n = 8).
Enhancing social inclusion (n = 20).Raising awareness for PWDsRaising awareness for PWDs
Improving the awareness of para-sports (n = 21).
A great programme (n = 8).Addressing the urgent issue of supporting para-athletesContentment
Hope to continue for long time (n = 3).
Liked the idea of the programme and its aims (n = 5).
It was a great and successful experience (n = 10).
The programme is really needed (n = 3).
Psychologist and Social worker (n = 3).Improvements to be madeImprovements to be madeFurther improvements to be made to the Fakher Programme
Appropriate facilities (n = 3).
Qualified coaches (n = 3).
Media should pay more attention (n = 3).
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Alhumaid, M.M.; Brooke, M.; Khoo, S. Insider Perspectives on Saudi Arabia’s Fakher Disability Sports Programme. Sustainability 2022, 14, 10706.

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Alhumaid MM, Brooke M, Khoo S. Insider Perspectives on Saudi Arabia’s Fakher Disability Sports Programme. Sustainability. 2022; 14(17):10706.

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Alhumaid, Majed M., Mark Brooke, and Selina Khoo. 2022. "Insider Perspectives on Saudi Arabia’s Fakher Disability Sports Programme" Sustainability 14, no. 17: 10706.

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