Jordan out to set the bar high at start of Middle East Rally Championship

Expect to see a lot of exciting jumps and action across the course of the championship.
Updated 25 April 2018
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Jordan out to set the bar high at start of Middle East Rally Championship

  • Jordan first leg of this year's six-rally championship.
  • Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah revving up for a crack at a 14th title.

LONDON: Perhaps taking the lead from the races on its calendar, the Middle East Rally Championship (MERC) has run a rocky course in recent years; a mixture of super, special moments and bumps delaying its natural progress. 
For various reasons the MERC calendar has concertinaed in recent years, going from eight races in 2015 to just five last season. This year’s calendar will feature six, marking the return of the Kuwait Rally. It also, however, involves Qatar switching from its traditional slot as the season curtain-raiser to the final race, most likely as a means of delaying any issues that may stem from the ongoing diplomatic crisis between Qatar and the Anti-Terror Quartet.
Yet all these subplots and possible political machinations will fade today as the new season gets underway in Jordan. With a timed two-kilometer super-special stage on the shores of the Dead Sea, the surrounding water may be stagnant but the championship will very much come alive.
“We are finding ourselves in the unusual position of opening the championship this year,” Othman Nassif, the CEO of Jordan Motorsport, told Arab News. “This is a huge honor for us (and) we promise to deliver a stunning launch to the championship that will set the bar high for the rest of the season.
“We are focussing on our event and our event only, and of course hoping that other countries host successful rallies. We also hope that those that have left the calendar in recent years return to make the Middle East Championship one of the best regional circuits in rallying.”
The Jordan Rally has been practically ever-present on the international rally circuit since its inaugural event in 1981, including a trio of appearances on the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) calendar. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah, the reigning MERC champion, regards it as one of his favorite races and has previously stated he would like to see it return to the WRC in the future.
Al-Attiyah, who will drive a Ford Fiesta R5 over the demanding gravel stages, is chasing history this season. Having won the MERC title 13 times in 15 years, the Qatari now holds just one championship fewer than Mohammed Ben Sulayem, the legendary UAE rally driver and current FIA vice president.
Victory for Al-Attiyah this weekend, as well as putting him on course to equal Ben Sulayem’s record of 14 titles, would also result in him equalling the Emirati’s record of most wins in Jordan. While Ben Sulayem won 12 times between 1984 and 2002, Al-Attiyah has won all but four events in the Hashemite Kingdom since claiming his first in 2003.
“People talk about records and, yes, it is nice to win rallies and break records, but it’s not about that,” said Al-Attiyah. “It is very important to keep this championship. We need to work to improve and keep it alive. Jordan is doing a very good job to keep the championship strong. We have seen ups and downs in the past and we always got through those. I am sure the championship will come back very strong.”
While critics argue that Al-Attiyah’s dominance threatens to detract from the championship, for Nassif, it should only motivate other drivers in the region to improve. He insisted fans of the Middle East championship must appreciate what they are seeing.
“To have Nasser with us this weekend going for a record is something special,” said Nassif. “But of course anything can happen in rallying and he knows he will again have to be at his best to win here.”
The four-day race will be held over 15 special stages throughout the Dead Sea and Jordan Valley areas. Organizers have run an extensive marketing campaign in the country to promote the event and expect a strong turnout, helped by free ticketing, and those who make the trip will, according to Nassif, be witnessing one of the greats.
“To be at the top of your game for so long takes something special. Nasser, like Mohammed before him, has been a real giant of motorsport not just in the Middle East, but also in world motorsport in general by winning the famed Dakar Rally. The challenge is there for the next generation to come and end his domination.”
 


MIDDLE EAST RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP RALLY SCHEDULE

These are the six races that will make up this year’s Middle East Rally Championship

26-28 April - Jordan Rally
15-17 June - The Cyprus Rally
6-8 July - Rally of Lebanon
5-7 September - Iran International Rally
1-3 November - Kuwait International Rally
15-17 November - Qatar International Rally


Saudi Arabian football clubs helped with debts by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

Updated 22 May 2018
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Saudi Arabian football clubs helped with debts by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

  • Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will cover all external debts owed by Saudi Professional League clubs
  • Crown Prince will provide 1,277,000,000 Saudi riyals (around $340 million)

RIYADH: The General Sports Authority and Saudi Arabia Football Federation (SAFF) have announced that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will cover all external debts owed by Saudi Professional League clubs.
According to reports, the Crown Prince will provide 1,277,000,000 Saudi riyals (around $340 million) that will not only clear monies owed but also enable clubs to invest ahead of the 2018-19 season.
The issue of debt had become a major issue in the country’s football scene.
“Some Saudi Arabian clubs are currently experiencing financial problems that require immediate and urgent intervention,” the General Sports Authority, which oversees Saudi Arabian sport, said in a statement released on social media.
The body noted that there are a total of 107 cases under appeal at world governing body FIFA regarding unpaid salaries in Saudi Arabia.
“Failure to intervene urgently to rescue clubs may result in damage to the reputation of the Kingdom in general and Saudi Arabian sport in particular,” added the GSA.
“Some Saudi Arabian clubs may face severe disciplinary sanctions because of the failure to meet financial obligations such as the
denial of the registration of players in general or the deduction of points.”
Unpaid salaries were also a factor in Al-Ittihad and Al-Nassr being unable to appear in this year’s AFC Champions League after they were denied AFC club licenses.
Al-Ittihad were the club with the highest debt of 309 million riyals ($82 million) and welcomed the news.
“We are delighted by the generous initiative of His Royal Highness,” Al-Ittihad president Nawaf Al-Muqairn said in an official statement released by the two-time Asian champions.
“This contributes to creating solid ground for all clubs to move toward achieving their goals.”
Legendary Saudi striker Sami Al-Jaber, recently appointed president of champions Al-Hilal, announced his gratitude on social media.
“Great thanks to His Highness the Crown Prince for the great support that the clubs have enjoyed which enables sport in our country to keep pace with the aspirations of our leadership,” Al-Jaber wrote.
The Crown Prince’s move followed the SAFF announcing a new raft of regulations in April that will come into effect next season and are designed to take the league forward. These included restricting club spending on transfers and salaries to 70 percent of revenue. The size of first-team squads has been reduced from 33 to 28, of which five must be homegrown players of 23 or younger.