Al-Attiyah, Bernacchini lead Qatar Rally

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Updated 25 January 2013
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Al-Attiyah, Bernacchini lead Qatar Rally

Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Italian co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini led the 2013 Qatar International Rally, the opening round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship, by 4.8 seconds after six new timed special stages to the west of Doha yesterday.
Driving a Ford Fiesta RRC, the Qatari had been involved in a frantic tussle with Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi and British navigator Scott Martin over the rocky desert stages and mere seconds had separated the pair all day. The defending regional champion, who is bidding for his 10th Qatar Rally win, eventually finished the day with three stage wins.
“Today was not a day to push too much,” said Al-Attiyah. “The new stages here were very hard on the cars. Tomorrow they are smoother and we can go faster. But it is not easy.” Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi made his traditional flying start, but a little over exuberance on the crucial third stage cost him the lead and his place in the rally. Al-Qassimi and Al-Attiyah took up the fight, with Qatar’s Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari and Khalid Al-Suwaidi trailing in their wake.
The Qatari duo reached the overnight halt in third and fourth places. Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi held fifth after Jordan’s Alaa Rasheed was forced out in the fifth stage.
Rookie Emirati Mohamed Al-Mutawaa led the new two-wheel drive category in his R3 Citroën DS3.
Young Abu Dhabi junior driver Mohamed Al-Sahlawi ran out of spare tires on his debut and was forced into SupeRally today, as puncture-related incidents decimated the original 18-car field.
Al-Attiyah led 17 rivals into the new 21.81km Al-Shabhana stage for the first time. Tactics would come into play from the outset and all eyes were on whether the Qatari and his closest rivals would push hard to try and take the early advantage.
The nine-time rally winner set the target time of 10min 48.1sec and edged into a 5.5-second advantage over Al-Rajhi, with Khaled Al-Qassimi a close third. Al-Rajhi caught the dust of Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi and was granted a three-minute starting gap for the second special, despite puncturing two tires. It was proof he had been at ‘full attack’.
Al-Kuwari and Al-Suwaidi were fourth and fifth, but Kuwait’s Meshari Al-Thefiri dropped six minutes to the leaders and Jordan’s Zaid Dahshan retired with fuel pump issues at the end of the stage.
The 24km of the new Umm Wishah stage followed and Al-Attiyah reached the flying finish in 11min 58.1sec, but he was pegged back by a flying Al-Qassimi in the works Citroën. Al-Rajhi was even quicker and a stunning time by the Saudi pushed him into the overall lead. Turkey’s Burcu Cetinkaya crashed her Mitsubishi and managed to continue, but rear axle problems accounted for Edith Weiss.
Crews had feared the outcome of the third 25km Al-Karaana stage after the recce. The last few km were particularly rocky and none intended to risk their cars on this section. The special came back to bite Al-Rajhi: he damaged a wheel and the front suspension in the stage and was forced out of the running, as Al-Qassimi maybe took one too many risks himself and escaped with a midday lead of 4.3 seconds over a more cautious Al-Attiyah.
Al-Suwaidi completed SS3 with a broken drive shaft sustained at the end of stage two and punctures were commonplace, with Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari destroying the right-hand rear of his car after a tire disintegrated and Alaa Rasheed damaging several tires.
“It was just not worth pushing hard in there,” said Al-Attiyah. “Yazeed had his problem, Khalid damaged the front of his car, it was a matter of getting through safely.” Cetinkaya pulled out at the service point: “I rolled one time and landed on the side of the car in the second stage and carried on but I should have stopped there and gone for SupeRally,” said Cetinkaya. “Instead I did another stage and had more problems with tires and lost more time.” The three stages were repeated in the heat of the afternoon over deteriorating track surfaces and Al-Attiyah attacked and shaved over 16 seconds off his first run through the Al-Shabhana stage. He beat Al-Qassimi by 7.2 seconds and moved into a 2.9-second lead, as Al-Kuwari and Al-Suwaidi held third and fourth overall.
A repeat of Umm Wishah was next up and Al-Qassimi was quickest again by 5.8 seconds to retake the overall lead from Al-Attiyah by just 2.9 seconds. Al-Kuwari also beat Al-Attiyah to retain a solid third place, but Alaa Rasheed lost fifth position and retired after a series of puncture-related incidents.
The second run through Al-Karaana was treacherous and Al-Attiyah emerged with the quickest time to hold an overnight lead of 4.8 seconds.


Arabian Gulf League CEO shares bright vision for the future

Updated 22 April 2018
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Arabian Gulf League CEO shares bright vision for the future

  • Waleed Al-Hosani has been Arabian Gulf League CEO for 18 months
  • Al-Hosani's vision for the league includes making attending matches more appealing to fans

DUBAI In an unassuming office 
block above an Audi showroom in Abu Dhabi, Waleed Al-Hosani is plotting the future of professional football in the UAE.
It is a task that requires creativity and the Pro League Committee (PLC) workspace is certainly conducive to that; a replica substitutes’ bench complete with leather chairs sits in the reception area, while a running track weaves its way among the desks and chairs.
The PLC office is bright and innovative, mirroring Al-Hosani, who for 18 months has been the organization’s CEO. In that time, the Emirati has already demonstrated significantly more foresight than his predecessors. Al-Hosani’s goal is to reinvigorate the Arabian Gulf League (AGL).
From the outside, it may appear that it does not need reinvigorating. UAE clubs have appeared in two of the past three AFC Champions League finals and the UAE has been ranked as the AFC’s best league for the past four years. Millions of dollars have been plowed into the AGL, with marquee players improving the standard of football and ensuring progress to the latter stages of continental tournaments.
Competitiveness is not, however, the criteria that concerns Al-Hosani.
Last season, the average attendance for AGL matches was just 2,500. The league commands some princely sums in TV rights and reportedly attracts an impressive viewership of up to eight million people. But empty stands are a source of both embarrassment and worry.
Tackling this fan apathy is the central tenet of the PLC’s new four-year plan, introduced at the start of the 2017-18 season.
“Poor attendances is the biggest issue we are facing in the Arabian Gulf League,” Al Hosani told Arab News.
“When the Pro League Committee first launched in 2007, the focus was on investing in the teams, getting better players from around the world and creating a big buzz in the media.
“Unfortunately they didn’t manage to balance this with community engagement. This has resulted in clubs becoming closed, not realizing the role they can play in the community and the responsibilities they have to preserve and develop their fanbase.”
This failure by the clubs strikes a personal chord with Al-Hosani. Raised within a stone’s throw from Al-Wahda FC in Abu Dhabi, the PLC chief spent his childhood immersed in the club.
“For many of us, Al-Wahda was our life,” he recalled. “Of course we played football there whenever we could. But beyond that they put on classes to helped us with maths and English, we went bowling — there were a lot of activities. It created loyalty between us and the club.
“Somewhere along the way, this was lost. You look around the AGL and that sort of environment doesn’t exist. I think I’m fortunate I had this experience in my childhood as I can now try to recreate that feeling for people again.”
Diverting money away from transfers and salaries and into infrastructure has been the PLC’s main aim this season. Each club now has a budget set aside for marketing and community activities, which must be designed with long-term benefits in mind.
“A lot of clubs want to use the money for 
prizes but you cannot buy loyalty. A few years ago, Al-Jazira did an amazing giveaway — if you attended matches you could win a Ferrari. It received a lot of attention and attendances exploded that season.
“It was a nice project but when it finished, the fans were gone. The people didn’t come for the club, they came for the prizes. We want to avoid that — we want to build a new, loyal generation of supporters.”
Al-Hosani is demanding that clubs focus their efforts on engagement with supporters. He wants to see community initiatives and liaison with schools and neighborhoods — in order to create a greater sense 
of belonging.
The matchday experience, too, is a target for improvement. It has been lacking for some time for UAE football fans, who have grown accustomed to broken Wi-Fi and closed food and beverage outlets. The rebuilding and refurbishment of a number of stadiums ahead of next year’s Asian Cup in the UAE will be a welcome boost for supporters.
“The improved stadiums will help many clubs,” Al-Hosani explained. “But it’s not enough — we want them to build fan zones, F&B structures — anything that improves the experience of going to an AGL match for fans.
“This change is not easy as most clubs have never thought about it, but that is why we are providing workshops and education so they can understand how to engage 
with the fans and increase the attendances.”Even the act of purchasing a ticket is now significantly easier. It seems remarkable that just a year ago, the majority of UAE football supporters could only buy a ticket when they arrived at the stadium. The introduction of a new central online ticketing system, in English and Arabic, 
has created a more efficient mechanism that also opens up the AGL 
to a wider audience.
Attracting expats and tourists to games has long been regarded as the Holy Grail for the AGL. Almost 90 percent of the country’s population are non-UAE nationals, but in the 11 years since the Pro League Committee was formed it has failed to unlock the secret of how to get them to matches. More accessible tickets is the first step, according to Al-Hosani, who has been encouraging clubs to recognize the importance of diversifying their fanbase. “Reaching out to expats is of course vitally important. I’m not sure why we are so late to do this but based on my experience when I was a fan of the league, I think the initiatives weren’t consistent. Maybe they did one campaign and then stopped for two years before doing another one. “We are working on future promotional activities. We will go to beaches, malls, public gardens — we will do kids’ activities, entertainment, competitions — we want people to know the AGL. The key is to be patient and persistent.”
A desire for quick wins has long been an issue for both the league and its clubs, who are notoriously trigger-happy with their managers. Al-Hosani and his PLC team are working hard to change that mentality and have already made admirable inroads. “As any change anywhere in the world, it’s difficult,” Al-Hosani said. “People are afraid of the unknown, this is natural. There will be resistance but there is a growing understanding that these changes will benefit UAE football in the 
long term.”