Asia needs Australian win

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The sight of Australians with their hands on their heads is not one West Asian fans should wish to see if they want more Asian World Cup spots. (Reuters)
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Updated 14 November 2017
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Asia needs Australian win

LONDON: Qualification for the 2018 World Cup has not ended for fans in West Asia: They should be getting behind Australia ahead of their second leg against Honduras today.
In the world of football, the Socceroos are an Asian team and after drawing 0-0 in the first leg in Central America last weekend they stand on the verge of making their fifth global showpiece. If Australia are successful, Asia will have five teams at the World Cup for the first time (technically, that happened in 2006 but Australia had qualified through the Oceania region).
There is still work to do, of course. A goalless draw in San Pedro Sula was scant reward for a strong performance by the visitors and while it means a win will be enough at home, should Honduras get that away goal then the situation will look very different indeed.
Australia have the know-how, experience and coach to succeed but will be hoping that the late introduction of veteran goal-getter Tim Cahill (pictured right), still recovering from injury, will not be necessary.
Cahill made the difference, as he so often has done, when he was needed against Syria in the previous round. The former Everton man scored both goals in the second leg of the playoff on home soil as the Asian champions squeezed through.
Perhaps the greatest danger is — apart from a lapse in concentration giving an away goal — is overconfidence. Honduras did not impress at home, giving rise to the expectation of victory from Australians. If any country should understand the unpredictability of World Cup playoffs, however, it is the Aussies after the heartbreak of Iran in 1997 and the ecstasy of Uruguay eight years later.
Should the result go the way of the Socceroos, there will be the usual  congratulations from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) but will the official statement reflect the general sentiments around the continent as a whole?
It is not a given. East and Southeast Asia have been more open to the new kids on the block. In West Asia, there is more skepticism.
Fans in West Asia may have forgotten the comments made back in 2006, after Australia joined the AFC, by Sheikh Talal Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, head of Kuwait’s Olympic Committee, but those in Australia have not.
“We are against Australia joining the Asian continent, even in soccer,” said Sheikh Talal. “This is the biggest mistake made against Asian soccer. This will kill the ambitions of Asian soccer.
“What are we going to benefit from Australia’s soccer team? Is it the experience. We might play with them once every four years.”
It is understandable that there was resentment in some circles. Since Australia entered the confederation, no Arabian team from West Asia has qualified — until Saudi Arabia managed it this year.
With the continent having just four automatic spots to the world’s biggest sporting event, importing a strong nation from outside did result in greater competition for places. Saudi Arabia just missed out in 2010 and had there been no Australia, perhaps it would have been different.
It’s not just about that. Australia could certainly have done more to engage with the rest of Asia, especially the western half. It was always going to take time, effort and patience but talk to officials from Saudi Arabia behind the scenes and they complain that Australia has been slow to help other countries in aspects of the game where they lead, such as sports science.
UAE officials say that the 2015 Asian Cup hosts could have been quicker to come forward to give the benefit of their experience, with the 2019 tournament fast approaching.
The sense that Australia is happy to take from Asia, seeing it as a potential gold mine to be exploited, rather than a continent to engage in deep and meaningful mutually beneficial relationships, still exists.
Yet it can go both ways. Fans in West Asia should be getting behind the Socceroos as a fellow Asian nation. A little continental solidarity would benefit all involved.
Australia are the Asian champions. The side is trying to give Asia five teams at the 2018 World Cup. Having more representatives there can only increase the chances of AFC getting past the group stage and that will, among other things, raise the reputation and standing of Asian football and, in time, it could increase chances of Asia getting another slot at future tournaments. That’s a win-win situation for all.
It’s time to get behind the Socceroos.


Kariman Abuljadayel has sights set on more Olympic glory and inspiring a nation

Updated 20 July 2018
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Kariman Abuljadayel has sights set on more Olympic glory and inspiring a nation

  • Saudi sprinter made history at Rio Olympics becoming the first woman from the Kingdom to run in the 100m
  • Abuljadayel hopes to inspire more women into taking up sport in Saudi Arabia

Kariman Abuljadayel has not finished making history. The Saudi Arabian sprinter made a name for herself as the first woman from the Kingdom to run in the 100 meters at the Olympics. That race in Rio de Janeiro two years ago did much to change the perception of female athletes in Saudi Arabia, coming four years after Sarah Attar became the first Saudi Arabian woman to take part in the global games.
What could prove to be more of a boon for women in the Kingdom than even Abuljadayel’s and Attar’s remarkable runs are the changes currently taking place in the country. Last month the ban on women driving was lifted, just a few months after females were allowed in sports stadiums and the inaugural all-women’s run took place in Riyadh in March.
Abuljadayel said she hopes that these moves will prove to be game-changers, not just in terms of equality, but that they will also be a springboard to success for aspiring Saudi Arabian sportswomen.
“I feel like the idea of allowing Saudi girls to drive is giving them independence, empowering them to dream and (helping them) achieve that dream,” she told Arab News.
“It will facilitate them getting to sports events and help in many areas. And will being able to attend sports events boost women’s sport? Definitely.
“I want girls to appreciate the opportunities that Saudi Arabia is creating and not take them for granted. They need to take these opportunities and experiences to help them grow.
“I believe it is only a matter of time before we will be a society fully promoting sport.”
If the latter goal is embraced with the zeal with which the 24-year-old Abuljadayel exudes and attacks every training session, she believes great things beckon for Saudi Arabian sport, despite the country’s unremarkable Olympic track record. The Kingdom has claimed only three medals — one silver and two bronze — in 10 appearances at the Olympics. Saudi Arabian women were first allowed to compete at the Games at London 2012 following pressure from the International Olympic Committee.
Abuljadayel said: “Gold is not impossible. We’ve seen many countries winning gold. But in order to win gold, you need to go the extra mile.
“It’s (about) hard work, dedication and patience for years. If there’s a will, there’s a way.
“Eventually if you really want to be the best in the world, of course you can be the best in the world. I live in a society right now that provides other Saudi girls with these kinds of opportunities.
“It’s up to them to take them and take (sport) to the next level.”
Abuljadayel lamented the fact she was denied such opportunities, and described being unable to attend sports events in her homeland as “a huge miss.”
Yet even so, the 24-year-old would not be deterred from pursuing her passion for sport.
“Along with my friends I was part of a football team and we organized matches in our school in Riyadh. All proceeds from the matches went to the workers in our school,” she said.
Abuljadayel never dreamed of participating in the Olympics. But then came the watershed moment in the summer of 2012 when the ban on Saudi Arabian women taking part was lifted, shortly before the London Games and 800 meter runner Attar joined judo player Wojdan Shaherkani to make history.
Attar provided one of the stand-out images of the those Olympics when, resplendent in a white hijab and vibrant green, long-sleeved jacket, she became the first woman from the Kingdom to compete at the Games. The then 19-year-old received a standing ovation and worldwide acclaim for her landmark achievement, despite finishing last in her qualifying heat by some distance.
Abuljadayel was so inspired that she joined the track team of Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, where she studied architecture. Just four years later she was one of four females competing for Saudi Arabia at the Rio Olympics.
She finished seventh in her 100 meter heat, but she was also widely lauded for her pioneering feat.
Now Abuljadayel hopes to enhance her reputation by qualifying for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. And, if she does, she will not just be content to take part like she did when she was in Rio.
Abuljadayel, who just months before her Olympic debut set a national record in the 60 meters at the World Indoor Championships in Portland, Oregon, said: “It was a milestone that I reached Rio, but I feel like it’s just the beginning of the road. It gave me experience to prepare me for the next step. For me, that’s qualifying for the upcoming rounds. That’s definitely my goal.
“If I go to the next Olympics, I will definitely know what to expect and how to react and the amount of work to put in.”
Before then, however, she has her work cut out adapting to a change of discipline after switching from the 100 meters to the 400 meters. Her coach felt that the statuesque six-footer’s stride pattern would better suit longer distances.
The doughty Abuljadayel seems equipped for any challenge she faces on and off the track, though, including that of being a role model in her homeland and the Middle East in general. Eloquent and animated, she has also excelled academically, becoming an
accredited architect, after being awarded her bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
“I feel like my experience can help motivate others. Before me there was no one. No one had run the 100 meters,” she said.
“So, if a girl thought: ‘I want to run the 100 meters’ before I did it in Rio, she would think: ‘But no one did it before, why would I?’. But after I ran the race, she would think: ‘Oh, she did it, so can I.’ That’s actually great. I hope I can be a role model.
“But that’s up to people, not me. What I can deliver is results and hope those results inspire people. If it’s in Saudi Arabia, great. If it’s outside of (the country) even better.
“At the end of the day, I am a proud Saudi citizen and I hope my community is proud of me.”
Abuljadayel, who has trained in the US and Berlin, said that her own role model is someone outside of sport — her mother Suraya.
Of her galvanizing impact, she said: “She’s the one that I go to, she’s the one I call. She’s a huge factor in my success. She was there in Rio, at the World (Indoors) Championships and all my competitions. Having this unconditional support for me means the world.”
Abuljadayel, who is currently taking a break from training, enjoyed watching the Green Falcons play at the recent World Cup. She even traveled to Switzerland last month to attend the inaugural Julius Baer Zurich E-Prix, the penultimate race of the 2017/18 all-electric ABB FIA Formula E Championship season, describing it as “inspiring” and “a one-of-a-kind experience.”
Her visit was also symbolic because the championship — which was launched in 2014 — will make its Middle East debut in Riyadh on Dec. 15, the 10-team discipline’s 2018/19 season-opener.
Abuljadayel is “really excited” about the race, particularly because it is set to include activities for women just months after they were first allowed behind the wheel in the country.
“I feel it’s going to be a wonderful opportunity to inspire the millennials and other people in Riyadh to witness such a new and innovative sport that can give you entertainment but with sustainable solutions,” she said.
“The Riyadh race agreement is for 10 years, so this will really accelerate the development of the sport in the Kingdom. It’s held in cities like New York, Berlin and Shanghai and the advent of hosting this in Riyadh opens up lots of opportunities for driving enthusiasts in the country, including women.”

SAUDI ARABIAN GAME CHANGERS 

SARAH ATTAR: Attar was the first Saudi Arabian woman to compete at the Olympics. She came last in her 800 meter heat in London but won the hearts of fans around the world. The photo of her crossing the finish line in 2012 is one of the truly iconic sporting images of the past decade. She followed up her London run by moving up to the marathon in Rio four years later. 

WOJDAN SHAHERKANI: Shaherkani took up judo thanks to her father being a judo referee. It was a decision she would not regret as she became the second woman from Saudi Arabia to take part at the Olympics. The 22-year-old was a blue belt when she competed in the London Games and she said: “In the future we will and I will be a star for women’s participation.”

ASEEL AL-HAMAD: Al-Hamad is the first female member of the Saudi Arabian Motorsport Federation and is also on the FIA Women in Motorsport Commission. She drove a lap of the French Grand Prix’s Le Castellet circuit in a Formula One car on the day the ban on women driving on the Kingdom’s roads was lifted. “Today is the birth of women in motorsport,” she said.