Saudi Arabia in the market to stage T10 cricket tournament

Virender Sehwag could be one of the stars playing cricket in Saudi Arabia. (AFP)
Updated 24 February 2018
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Saudi Arabia in the market to stage T10 cricket tournament

BANGALORE: Saudi Arabia, in keeping with its desire to host elite sporting events, could soon stage a T10 cricket competition, as the tournament — held with much fanfare in Sharjah last December — looks to spread its wings and establish a following across continents.
Shaji Ul Mulk, the chairman of the T10 League and its creator, signalled his intention this week “to take T10 global” and the general manager of the venue that hosted the first staging of the tournament in December revealed the Kingdom was being considered as a serious option to stage a franchise event of the shortest form of the game.
“Saudi Arabia has shown a lot of interest and is keen to stage the (T10) event at the earliest opportunity,” said Mazhar Khan, general manager of the Sharjah Cricket Stadium. “The first final was watched by a 15,000-capacity crowd and, according to ground officials, another 7,000 people were left outside.”
The first T10 tournament was telecast in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, and featured stars such as Virender Sehwag, Eoin Morgan and Shahid Afridi. Those still playing at the highest level included Dwayne Bravo, Mohammed Amir, Sarfaraz Ahmed and Alex Hales. Kerala Kings, a franchise owned by Ul Mulk and captained by Morgan, won the competition.
Purists may bemoan the idea of a T10 hit-out in the unlikely setting of Saudi Arabia, but if it helps to spread the game, as Ul Mulk hopes it will, there will be few complaints. It could also help cricket finally establish a foothold in the Kingdom and be the spur to reach the standards set by Middle East neighbors the UAE and Oman. Nearly a decade ago, Saudi Arabia shocked the UAE in the 2008 ACC Trophy Elite in Kuala Lampur, but there have been few other achievements since.
Now, the large expatriate population, many from the subcontinent, can potentially look ahead to seeing some of their cricket heroes in the flesh.
The admission that talks are underway is further evidence of the General Sports Authority’s ambition to increase and diversify its portfolio of sports events. Boxing promoter Kalle Sauerland told Arab News earlier this month that “some of the plans that the Saudis have to bring big sporting events are very ambitious” and a tournament featuring cricket’s marquee names would definitely fall into that bracket.
Until this year, sport in Saudi Arabia has almost been synonymous with football. The national team reached the second round of the World Cup in the US in 1994, with Saeed Al-Owairan scoring one of the greatest goals in the competition’s history in the 1-0 victory over Belgium. The King Fahd Cup, held in 1992 and 1995, was the precursor to the Confederations Cup, which the Kingdom hosted in 1997.
But recently, the horizons have widened. The King Abdulaziz Horse Championship, with a total prize money of $17 million, has just been announced, and earlier this year the country hosted the Saudi PSA Women’s Squash Masters. February’s Race of Champions, won by David Coulthard, was the first-ever motorsport to take place in the Kingdom.
Boxing aficionados, meanwhile, can look forward to one of the bouts of the year in May when Oleksandr Usyk and Murat Gassiev touch gloves to decide who will be the undisputed cruiserweight champion of the world.


Meet the Saudi Arabian businessman shaping squash’s Olympic dream

Updated 14 November 2018
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Meet the Saudi Arabian businessman shaping squash’s Olympic dream

LONDON: A Saudi Arabian businessman is driving the bid to get squash included in the Olympics for the first time.
The World Squash Federation has petitioned three times for squash to join the Games, but each bid has been rejected by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The decision has prompted frustration in the squash community, particularly as sports such as climbing, surfing and skateboarding have been admitted.
Ziad Al-Turki is the Chairman of the Professional Squash Association (PSA) and has done wonders in marketing the game and broadening its appeal. He is now pushing hard for the game to be showcased on the biggest stage of all at the 2024 Olympics Games in Paris.
Squash has huge global appeal, with the men’s singles final in the last Commonwealth Games attracting a TV audience of more than one million.
“Everyone’s ultimate goal is the Olympics,” said Al-Turki. “The main push comes from the World Squash Federation (WSF) and for many years they were stuck in their ways. We changed a lot at the PSA and ticked every box with the IOC. The WSF just stayed stagnant and didn’t do anything. They didn’t want to put our hand in their hand and work together.”
Relations between the PSA and the WSF came to a head in 2015 in the wake of squash losing out to wrestling for a spot at the 2020 Olympics. A statement from the PSA described the then president of WSF, Narayana Ramachandran, as an “embarrassment to the sport.”
“Nothing could happen with the president of the WSF. Nothing would change. It was just a one-man show. We tried to help but he wouldn’t accept any help,” Al-Turki said. “We have a new president now and they are all very keen,” he added.
Jacques Fontaine is the new president and at his coronation in 2016 he encouragingly said “the Olympic agenda remains a priority.”
“The WSF love the sport and they understand the needs of the IOC,” said Al-Turki.
“They understand the PSA is at a completely different level to the WSF and we’ve now joined forces and are working together. Hopefully 2024 will be the year squash is in the Olympics. Right now, the way we are working together is the strongest collaboration ever and hopefully we can tick all the boxes for the IOC.
“We ticked all the right bodies as a professional association but the WSF didn’t. Now they are putting their hands in ours and we will tick all the right boxes for the ICO.”
Al-Turki, once described as the Bernie Ecclestone of squash, has certainly transformed the sport since he took up office in 2008.
“When I joined the PSA we didn’t have any media coverage,” he said. “Right now we are live in 154 countries. the women’s tour has just grown stronger and stronger — the income has gone up by 74 percent.
“I just love the squash players. I think they are incredible athletes are are some of the fittest athletes in the world. I felt they deserved better and I wanted them to have better.
“I don’t think we’ll be able to reach the levels of football and tennis in terms of exposure and prize money, but I want to reach a level where they will retire comfortably. It’s one of the fastest growing sports in the world right now.
“It’s all about the player and their well being. Nick Matthew retired recently and I think he’s retired comfortably. I think I’ve contributed to this as the income has improved. That’s all I want – nothing more.”