LONDON: The announcement on Tuesday that Saudi Arabia will stage the King Abdulaziz Horse Championship continues the Kingdom’s bold move to boost its entertainment industry by hosting landmark sporting events. Turki Al-Sheikh, president of the Saudi Arabia General Sports Authority, has said “many major sports events” are on the cards and boxing promoter Kalle Sauerland told Arab News that “some of the plans that the Saudis have to bring big sporting events there — they’ve acquired other interesting events — are very ambitious.”
Arab News takes a closer look at the three being staged in 2018.
SAUDI PSA WOMEN'S SQUASH MASTERS
Congratulations to the inaugural Saudi Masters Champion @noursherbini ...
The world’s leading female players descended on Riyadh last month for the first World Series event of 2018 and the first ever professional women’s sports event to be held in Saudi Arabia. The tournament, held at Princess Nora bint Abdul Rahman University, featured 32 international players, including world champion Raneem El-Welily, world No. 1 Nour El-Sherbini and eight-time world champion Nicol David. El-Sherbini won the $165,000 event, triumphing over compatriot El-Welily.
“Bringing professional squash back to Saudi Arabia for the first time since 2010 has been an ambition of mine and I am grateful for the support of the Women’s Department of the Saudi General Authority for Sport to see this come to fruition,” said PSA Chairman and Saudi businessman Ziad Al-Turki.
“Not only is squash one of the healthiest sports it is the perfect sport for the Saudi climate. I’m hoping that this tournament will increase local participation in Saudi Arabia, and I look forward to working with all parties involved throughout the next six months insuring continued success for years to come.”
The two-day event last week featured drivers from Formula One, Rallycross, IndyCar and other racing competitions and was the first ever motorsport to take place in the Kingdom. It was held at the 75,000-capacity King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh and was a family event “open to both genders”, according to the organizer’s website. David Coulthard, the 13-time Grand Prix winner, won the event, beating double World Rallycross Champion Petter Solberg in the final around the complex, rallycross-style circuit.
“As motorsport’s most forward-thinking property, ROC is an event perfectly suited to Saudi Arabia, which is emerging as a modern sports market on the global stage,” said Fredrik Johnsson, Race Of Champions president. “With women able to drive in Saudi Arabia from 2018, we feel this is an auspicious moment to be bringing a motorsport event to Riyadh.
WORLD BOXING SUPER SERIES CRUISERWEIGHT FINAL
We have our Cruiserweight Finalists!!
What a final we are going to have in Jeddah in May!!
Jeddah is set to host what is being billed as the fight of the year on May 11 when Oleksandr Usyk and Murat Gassiev slug it out. The winner of the final will unify the division, winning the IBF, WBA, WBC, WBO and the RING Magazine cruiserweight championship belt, and emerge as the undefeated and undisputed cruiserweight champion of the world. Also at stake is the Muhammad Ali Trophy and $10 million for the winner.
“This agreement is part of our broader commitment and work to develop the sport of boxing in Saudi Arabia,” said Al-Sheikh. “Having the first final of such a high profile and groundbreaking tournament take place in Saudi Arabia is a key milestone for us, and will be one of many major sports events to take place in the Kingdom next year.”
Giorgio Chiellini confident Juventus can buck recent trend of Supercoppa defeats
Skipper also happy the match is being played in Jeddah, and sees it as a ‘step forward’ for Saudi Arabia
AC Milan coach Gennaro Gattuso sidesteps questions about Gonzalo Higuain’s rumored move to English Premier League
Updated 16 min 13 sec ago
JEDDAH: Juventus have been experiencing a worrying trend in cup finals of late. Despite securing the Serie A and Coppa Italia double for three seasons running, they have lost back-to-back Supercoppas and seven out of nine European Cup finals. It is a trend, however, that captain Giorgio Chiellini believes can be halted on Wednesday when his side take on AC Milan in the Supercoppa Italiana final at King Abdullah Sports City Stadium in Jeddah.
“We want to change that trend that has seen us lose the last two Supercoppa finals, and this is the ideal opportunity,” the defender said.
“We have changed a great deal in two years, but we’ve got to prove ourselves with actions rather than words because we let a few too many of these trophies slip through our fingers and it’s a shame.
“It’s going to be a difficult match but the objective is to start 2019 lifting a trophy above our heads.”
Chiellini also defended the choice of Jeddah as the venue for the game against a backdrop of criticism by some. He said that it was “right” to give the Saudi port city the chance to host the showpiece match.
“I am happy this game is being played here and can be seen as a further reason for progress in this country, and I see it as a step forward and not a problem,” he said.
“We (footballers) cannot change the world but initiatives such as this can provide a new start.
“We have been given a warm welcome and I hope tomorrow can be remembered by the Saudi people as a wonderful celebration. We have to provide a spectacle of Italian football and know that all fans will be happy with our performances.”
As the rival teams faced the media on the eve of the match, both were confident about their chances of lifting the first silverware of the Italian season. This year marks the 31st Supercoppa, a match contested by the previous season’s Serie A champions and the winners of the Coppa Italia.
This year’s match, the tickets for which reportedly sold out in two days, might also mark a farewell to Italian football for striker Gonzalo Higuain, who is currently on loan to AC Milan from Juventus but is widely rumored to be on the verge of a move to Chelsea. If the Argentine international is indeed on his way out, he will be hoping to end his stay with the Rossoneri with some silverware while also, perhaps, sticking it to his parent club.
Asked about the status of any transfer talks, AC Milan head coach Gennaro Gattuso was careful to avoid feeding the rumor mill.
“At this moment, I have to repeat the same words: there are many rumors but Higuain is training well and working with everyone just fine and is at our disposal,” he said. “I base my decisions on how players train during the week and how they work with the staff and their teammates. We’ll see tomorrow whether he plays or not.
“I want to reiterate that Higuain has never told me he wants to leave. I am waiting for that. He has to decide what to do, how to resolve this issue, but right now he is training with great professionalism. We’ll see.”
Gattuso then nipped this line of questioning in the bud by adding: “I want to be honest; I don’t even want to talk about Higuain as we’re here for the Supercoppa.”
Juventus head coach Massimiliano Allegri, meanwhile, is well aware that while they are undefeated in Serie A this season after 19 games, with 17 wins and two draws, league form counts for little in a cup final, as evidenced by their recent results in such games. As such, he is keen to avoid any complacency among his players.
“One of the great strengths of this team is our respect for the opposition, otherwise you don’t win as many games as we have,” he said. “There are 22 points separating our teams in Serie A but those don’t matter here. If we do not have great humility and respect for Milan tomorrow, then it’s unlikely we will win the game.”
The prematch press conference inevitably included questions about Cristiano Ronaldo. Since his €112 million ($128 million) move to Juventus from Real Madrid last summer, the Portuguese star has netted 15 goals in 25 appearances. On Wednesday, the five-time winner of the Ballon d'Or — an award presented each year by France Football magazine to the player judged to be the best in the world — will aim to lift his maiden trophy with his new club, after having bagged 15 titles during his nine years with the Spanish giants.
While Ronaldo did not appear at the press conference, Allegri was asked whether the striker had arrived in Italy with a stronger and hungrier desire to win.
“He would have to win something first to prove that,” the coach said. “Cristiano is accustomed to winning; he has won four of the past five Champions Leagues and many more titles. Ronaldo is the best player in the world and clearly an added bonus for us. Our situation has certainly improved with his presence.”
Wednesday night’s match is sure to be hotly contested, as Juventus and AC Milan currently share the record for Supercoppa titles, with seven each. While Juventus are making their seventh successive Supercoppa appearance, it is perhaps AC Milan who can lay claim to bragging rights, given that the last time these two teams met in the Supercoppa, in 2016, the Rossoneri ended up on top following a penalty shoot-out after the game ended in a 1-1 draw after extra-time. With all the talking officially done, all that remains is a historic night of top quality football at King Abdullah Sports City Stadium.