Field of dreams: Turki Al-Sheikh’s year of sporting triumphs

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Turki Al-Sheikh with the Green Falcons. (AFP)
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Turki Al-Sheikh was named the 2017 Most Influential Arab Sports Personality of the Year at the 12th Dubai International Sports Conference. (Supplied)
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Updated 08 September 2018
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Field of dreams: Turki Al-Sheikh’s year of sporting triumphs

JEDDAH: This weekend marks the one-year anniversary of Turki Al-Sheikh’s appointment as chairman of Saudi Arabia’s General Sports Authority (GSA), a nomination that kicked off a year of unprecedented sporting achievement and historical events in the Kingdom.
Along with his responsibilities as GSA chief, Al-Sheikh is chairman of the board of directors of the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee, the Islamic Solidarity Sports Federation, and the Union of Arab Football Associations.
Since Al-Sheikh’s nomination in September last year, the GSA has launched a series of notable public initiatives in exercise and sport. In addition, Al-Sheikh has been instrumental in putting pen to paper on a host of lucrative multi-year contract deals with some of the largest sports entertainment organizations in the world.
At the top of the list of social initiatives that fall in line with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 has been the GSA-established Mass Participation Federation, the main body responsible for increasing public participation in exercise and sports in the Kingdom.
After a disappointing 2015 national sports survey showed only 13 percent of Saudi citizens aged 15 and over exercise at least once a week, extensive national exercise and sporting campaigns were established to raise public awareness on the benefits of exercise and sport.
Earlier this year, another national sports survey was conducted under identical conditions and methods, with the data revealing an encouraging increase to 23 percent, surpassing the GSA’s interim Vison 2030 target of 20 percent by 2020.
Princess Reema bint Bander, appointed president of the Mass Participation Federation in October 2017, commented on the positive increase in public health: “The improvements reflect the societal changes in culture and attitudes led by the Vision 2030 transformation and the support of Saudi women, as a lot of women are now more open to engaging in exercising and physical activity.
“It’s important to recognize that this is a family movement. Men and women, boys and girls, young and old, are responding and are proving — as we believe at the GSA — that sport is for all.”
The GSA has also been heavily involved in providing growth and support for the country’s national sport of football. In January this year, a Saudi-La Liga partnership saw nine of the finest Saudi players being transferred on loan to seven Spanish clubs in the top two divisions of the Spanish Football League.
The deals were mutually beneficial and served to provide a future avenue for Saudi Professional League players to gain vital footballing experience in one of the top leagues in the world.
In May, the GSA, along with the Saudi Football Federation, announced that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman would cover all external debts owed by Saudi clubs, a figure estimated at $340 million. It was welcome news to all teams since the issue of debt had long hindered the growth of football in the country.
In March, the GSA in cooperation with the Saudi Arabian Federation for Electronic and Intellectual Sports organized the 1st GSA Esports Cup. More than 2,000 players from around the world took part in the mega-event over three days. Electronic and intellectual sports have been flourishing in Saudi Arabia this year. In April, the first National Baloot Championship was held in Riyadh. Over 12,000 players participated in the popular card game for prizes totaling nearly $300,000.
In August, Saudi Mosaad Al-Dossary won the EA Sports FIFA eWorld Cup held at the O2 Arena in London. From an original pool of over 20 million contestants worldwide, “Msdossary” claimed the cup and $250,000 in prize money. He was the second Saudi to claim the title after Abdulaziz Alsheri won the 2015 edition.
The end of April saw arguably the biggest sporting extravaganza in Saudi Arabia this year. Al-Sheikh welcomed the heads of the WWE to the Kingdom, negotiating an extensive 10-year contract to bring WWE shows to Saudi Arabia on an annual basis. The “Greatest Royal Rumble” was the inaugural show held in Jeddah. A historical event at King Abdullah Stadium saw all seven WWE titles defended in front of over 60,000 men, women, and children.
August brought another world cup tournament and, with it, the crowning of Saudi Arabia as world champions once again. The INAS World Football Championships for athletes with intellectual disabilities held in Sweden saw an inspirational Saudi team sweep the competition emerging victorious over football powerhouse Argentina 2-0. It was an unprecedented fourth INAS cup win after successes in Germany in 2006, South Africa in 2010, and Brazil in 2014.
Al-Sheikh was quoted saying: “We are so proud of the team’s achievement. They are an inspiration for all of Saudi Arabia of what can be achieved through dedication and hard work. There is no challenge that cannot be overcome.”
This achievement served as a testament to the GSA’s mission to create an all-inclusive Saudi culture where men, women, and children all prosper regardless of intellectual or physical handicaps.
August also witnessed the Saudi National Team of Equestrian Jumping win the gold medal at the 18th Asian Games in Jakarta.
This month of September brings with it one of the most anticipated boxing title fights in recent memory, as George Groves defends his WBA super-middleweight title against Callum Smith at King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah on Sept. 28.
December wraps up the GSA’s 2018 calendar year of sporting events with Saudi Arabia set to host the season opener of the all-electric Formula E’s 2018-19 motor racing series. Riyadh’s Ad Diriyah district will mark the historical debut of Formula E in the Middle East, after the city-based series reached a 10-year agreement with the GSA and the National Motor Federation.
The Saudi Arabian government’s plan to diversify its economy away from oil received a massive boost from its sports entertainment sector this year.
Helping to steer this economic shift has been none other than Turki Al-Sheikh. The CEO of the General Sports Authority continues to strive to bring some of the world’s biggest sporting events to the Kingdom.
If 2018 is a sign of things to come, the Saudi public should brace themselves. Next year will surely be just as memorable.


India and Pakistan ready to renew rivalry in Dubai showdown

Updated 9 sec ago
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India and Pakistan ready to renew rivalry in Dubai showdown

  • India brace for Pakistan after surviving stern test against minnows Hong Kong
  • Usman Shinwari: Any player who performs well in an India-Pakistan match will find his career reaches a new high

DUBAI: As delirium sweeps the UAE ahead of the mouth-watering encounter between arch rivals India and Pakistan at the Asia Cup, it seems one man — at least outwardly — is not as excited as the rest of the country and cricketing fans the world over.
India captain Rohit Sharma played with a straight bat when asked about the biggest clash in world cricket, set to take place today at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium. On his first Asia Cup media outing the 31-year-old seemed unconcerned by the impending showdown with their fiercest opponents, his focus instead on facing Hong Kong, who Sharma and Co. had a big scare against on Tuesday.
“Right now, we are not focusing on Pakistan as (first) we are playing Hong Kong,” Sharma said on Sunday. “Obviously we have to focus on that particular team but once we have finished that game we will focus on Pakistan and what their strengths and weaknesses are.”
These are clearly the words of a man so media trained that by now he could easily be on the other side of the desk, asking the same questions he and his colleagues sometimes enjoy batting back with crafted clichés that speak of focusing on “one game at a time” or the like.
Sharma was clearly right to not take his eyes off the ball with Hong Kong — they are not here to merely make up the numbers, as their brilliant, battling performance on Tuesday illustrated. But at the same time, Sharma will be all too aware that as India skipper the one match you do not want to lead your side to defeat in is the one against Pakistan, regardless of competition and location.
Clearly India are not leaving Pakistan preparations to the 14 hours or so (sleep included) between the close of the Hong Kong clash and the toss prior to resuming Indo-Pak cricketing rivalry. To suggest they are would be naive at best.
A year on from Pakistan’s show-stealing Champions Trophy final victory over the old enemy in June last year, and a whole five years since the two sides met outside of an ICC or ACC event due to strained political relations, the appetite for the first of potentially three matches at this year’s Asia Cup is huge and one borne out of starved hunger.
Pakistan’s Usman Shinwari, fresh off defeating Hong Kong on Sunday, was more candid than Sharma.
“Any player who performs well in an India-Pakistan match will find his career reaches a new high, and every player dreams of doing well in this contest,” the fast bowler said. “I took three wickets (against Hong Kong), I hope that can be five wickets against India.”
Shinwari’s sentiments were echoed by his captain, Sarfraz Ahmed, who is absolutely clear on the levels of expectation that this fixture demands from fans on both sides of the border.
“The passion is always there,” said Sarfraz. “When you play against India everyone wants us to win as it’s against India.
“The fans say that whatever happens you have to win but as a captain I have to win against every team. It would be the same for India whose fans want them to win. It has happened in the past that any player who performs in the Indo-Pak match becomes a national hero.”
UAE cricket fans cannot wait for the clash. It took just a few hours for the first batch of tickets to be snapped up, the second bought in equally ravenous fashion. It has left a huge number of tickets now being touted across online marketplaces, social media platforms and, ultimately, will likely see the inflated resales being pawned outside the stadium on matchday too.
An expected 25,000 fans will swell the Ring of Fire, set to deal not only with cricket’s most fierce rivalry but also with all the unpredictability that will be thrown their way.
The famed traffic jams around Hessa Street, leading up to the stadium, and local entrances of Dubai Sports City will heave and efforts have been made to ease the burden of vehicles that will cart both sets of fans in and out of the area. Gates will open from 12p.m. local time, a whole three and a half hours before the first ball has been bowled. In an emirate where the last-minute rush is a daily fact of life, this will be not be an easy thing to execute but that, alongside the immense presence of volunteers and security, should prove welcome additions to the day’s running order.
This, though, is India vs Pakistan. Anything could happen.