Top-class sport moving to Saudi Arabia is a ‘great thing’, says UAE official

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Abu Dhabi hosts a range of world-class sporting events - the Club World Cup, won last year by Cristiano Ronaldo’s Reald Madrid, being one of them. This year sees the UAE capital host the tournament for the fourth time. (AFP)
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World Series Boxing is coming to Saudi Arabia. (AFP)
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Dustin Johnson is set to entertain Saudi Arabian crowds next year. (AFP)
Updated 29 July 2018

Top-class sport moving to Saudi Arabia is a ‘great thing’, says UAE official

  • Ahmed Al-Qubaisi, the director of marketing at the Abu Dhabi Sports Council, says Saudi Arabia is not a threat to UAE on the sporting front
  • Later this year Abu Dhabi will host the FIFA Club World Cup for the second year running, and fourth time in total

RIYADH: On Friday it was announced that the much-anticipated fight between world super-middleweight champion George Groves and highly rated youngster Callum Smith would be taking place in Jeddah. It is a bout that will be watched across the globe as the pair battle it out for the WBA super-middleweight and World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) titles.
Just a few months ago, had anyone said such a fight would happen at King Abdullah Sports City rather than Wembley Stadium, or in other traditional boxing heartlands, they would have been accused of being punch drunk. But such is the pace at which the Kingdom is making moves to bring top-class sporting events to the country, that in a short space of time it has dealt a right hook to accepted wisdom when it comes to sporting spectacles it can, will and wants to host.
It is clear that the country is revving its engines in terms of becoming a hub for well-known sports stars. On top of that fight, Saudi Arabia is also set to host the season-opening Formula E race in Riyadh in December, as well as world-class golfers Dustin Johnson and Patrick Reed in a European Tour event early next year.
The policy of using sport as a vehicle to promote a country is a well-known one, and Saudi Arabia does not need to look far to find a nation that has hosted big sporting events in a bid to publicize itself to the world. Next-door neighbor UAE has long been a Middle East sporting hub with Tiger Woods, Roger Federer, Serena Williams, Lewis Hamilton, to name only four stars, regular visitors to the Emirates.
But anyone thinking that the UAE would be worried that Saudi Arabia is trying to muscle in and take some limelight away had better think again, as, according to Ahmed Al-Qubaisi, the director of marketing at the Abu Dhabi Sports Council, the Kingdom’s push to host world-class sports event can only benefit the whole region.
“We are very happy to get more top-class sports events (in) the region,” Al-Qubaisi told Arab News.
“All the people know about our countries and our culture, about everything. Saudi Arabia hosting world-class events will help us to increase the number of great events in the region and number of well-known sports stars.
“Saudi Arabia is definitely not a rival to the UAE.”
Later this year Abu Dhabi will host the FIFA Club World Cup for the second year running, and fourth time in total. It is just one of a number of events that gets eyes across the world focused on the UAE capital, the Formula One race being an obvious example of another.
Aside from the promotional value of hosting such sporting spectacles, Al-Qubaisi said that the other benefit could be far more profound and long-lasting — and a pointer for Saudi Arabia who hope that hosting big sporting names and events inspires people to get up from their seats in the stand or sofa at home, put on their trainers and get active.
The Club World Cup will see Champions League winners Real Madrid stroll into town once again and will allow children to get up close to their heroes. Last year that meant Cristiano Ronaldo strutting his stuff at the Zayed Sports City Stadium, this year they will get to see World Cup player of the tournament Luka Modric (above left) once again.

For Al-Qubaisi, that can only be positive for the future success of teams in the UAE and across the region.
“It is a great thing for our region, big clubs come here and it’s great for Abu Dhabi and the Middle East,” Al-Qubaisi said.
“Football is the most important sport in the whole world and is the most important sport today in the Middle East. We have big names and players at our clubs in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and that will only continue to be the case.
“Of course, the hosting of tournaments such as the FIFA Club World Cup is a galvanizing factor in getting young Emiratis and Saudis to play football.
“(Players) such as Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos, Toni Kroos are great and can influence fans and children. It’s great to have these players playing in front of you. For small, young children seeing them on the pitch can only be good.”
Last year’s tournament saw UAE side Al-Jazira reach the semifinal where they ran Ronaldo and Co. close before ultimately losing 2-1.
“The hope is to have our players winning a championship such as this. Al-Jazira reaching the semifinal playing against Real Madrid was great, it was a big game and they lost the second-half 2-0, having gone ahead.”
One event that both Saudi Arabia and the UAE will take part in is next year’s Asian Cup, set to take place in the Emirates. Both will have high hopes that they can do well and inspire a generation of kids to lace up their boots and try to emulate players such as the Green Falcons’ Omar Al-Dawsari and the UAE’s Omar Abdulrahman.
Al-Qubaisi said that it is important that a Middle East team does well.
“The last time the tournament was held in the UAE, in 1996, Saudi Arabia won,” he said. “Today we are hosting this tournament, technically wise the UAE should do well. I think there will be (packed stadiums). There are 208 different nationalities in the country and they will all come to cheer for their countries. There will be full houses and we will see a festival of football. But of course I hope the UAE will win.”

KSA’s martial arts heroine: ‘I got into kickboxing by coincidence, as I just wanted to join a gym’

Updated 19 March 2019

KSA’s martial arts heroine: ‘I got into kickboxing by coincidence, as I just wanted to join a gym’

  • Young Saudi triumphant at Open International Tournament despite just two years of training
  • Zahra Al-Qurashi took the gold in the women’s 70 kg category, beating Jordanian Heba Wasfi

JEDDAH: Zahra Al-Qurashi never expected to be where she is today: A gold medal winner in full contact kickboxing at the Open International Tournament for Clubs aged just 21. What started out as a gym class two years ago soon turned into a passion, leading to her victory in Amman on Sunday.

“I got into kickboxing by coincidence, as I just wanted to join a gym. I found the class and gave it a try, and decided to keep attending the classes,” she said. “A year ago, I joined Flagboxing Gym, and started training with my coach Grethe (Kraugerud). With her help, I developed my style and I am improving every day.”

Full contact is a discipline of kickboxing where punches and kicks must be delivered to legal areas of the body. According to the World Association for Kickboxing Organizations’ rules, it is legal to attack the front of the head and front and side of the torso, using “ankle-level foot sweeps.” It is prohibited to attack the throat, lower abdomen, back, legs, joints, back of the head and top of the shoulders.

A medal at her first international competition, then, speaks volumes about Al-Qurashi’s tenacity. She took the gold in the women’s 70 kg category, beating Jordanian Heba Wasfi.

“As soon as I entered the ring, everything went blank, I couldn’t hear or see anyone but my opponent, so I don’t really recall hearing my name even,” said Al-Qurashi. “I got a couple of really good kicks and punches, but she was a good opponent. I was in my own zone though, following every move and made sure I didn’t make mistakes.”

Zahra Al-Quraishi, 21, is already a gold medal winner at an international event despite being a virtual rookie in the demanding sport of kickboxing. (Supplied photos)

Hala Al-Hamrani, the owner of Flagboxing Gym in Jeddah, said: “I am over the moon. I have dreamt about this happening for 16 years, ever since I started coaching. My goal was to eventually provide the ladies of this country with an opportunity to compete.”

For approximately two months, Kraugerud, from Norway, oversaw Al-Qurashi’s workouts, adding more sparring, interval training and intense ring practice.

“I’ve had Zahra spar with men, who are bigger and stronger than her, to give her a sense of what to expect in the ring, to give her more confidence and make her mentally prepared,” said Kraugerud. “I was very proud of her as she entered the ring, you could see the respect for the sport reflected in her. We did a really good job at Flag, we really pushed for this together as a team. She’s young, but she’s talented and she will go far.”

Al-Hamrani, a member of the Saudi Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) Federation, added: “We got her ready by providing her with the right practice and training. It’s a dream come true and it’s very overwhelming because it was such a long process for something like this to happen. Zahra is an up-and-coming athlete who hopefully has a long future and I’m extremely excited to see what that future holds.”

Abdul Aziz Julaidan, chairman of the Saudi MMA Federation, hailed the result after a tough bout between the two competitors, and thanked Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, chairman of the General Sport Authority, for the support he had given to the team.

Upon returning to her hometown of Jeddah, Al-Qurashi was greeted by her mother. “I was hugging her and crying and mom, being mom, asked if I was crying because I got hit,” she laughed. “That was her way of saying: I’m proud of you.”