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

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.


VAR denies Manchester City again in latest wild Premier League match with Tottenham

Updated 17 August 2019

VAR denies Manchester City again in latest wild Premier League match with Tottenham

  • Gabriel Jesus thought he scored the winner in the second minute of injury time
  • VAR — new to the league this season — ruled the ball reached Jesus off the arm of Aymeric Laporte

LONDON: Four months later, Manchester City was denied another crucial late goal against Tottenham by an intervention from the video assistant referee.
Gabriel Jesus thought he scored the winner in the second minute of injury time in a wild English Premier League match at Etihad Stadium on Saturday when he curled home a finish after the ball landed at his feet following a corner. The Brazil striker waved and danced in front of City’s jubilant fans, unaware the on-field referee had been told the goal was under review.
VAR — new to the league this season — ruled the ball reached Jesus off the arm of Aymeric Laporte as the City defender stretched to head it. Newly implemented rules say a foul should be awarded if a goal is scored from an accidental handball.
The goal was disallowed, much to the anger of Jesus and City’s frustrated fans, and the match finished 2-2. The final whistle was greeted with loud boos inside the stadium as the English champions dropped points in the second match of their title defense.
Back in April, almost the exact same thing happened to City when Spurs visited for a Champions League match. On that occasion, Raheem Sterling had a goal disallowed for offside by VAR in the third minute of injury time, denying City a place in the semifinals.
City manager Pep Guardiola didn’t drop to his knees and look as crestfallen like he did in April. Instead he engaged in conversation with Tottenham counterpart Mauricio Pochettino in the technical area as confusion reigned around him.
“I thought we left that situation against Tottenham in the Champions League last season. But it is the same,” Guardiola said. “The referee and VAR disallow it. It’s the second time, it’s tough. It’s honestly tough.”
Guardiola will wonder how his team didn’t win.
Twice taking the lead in the first half, through Sterling and then Sergio Aguero, City was twice pegged back by Tottenham, first by Erik Lamela and then by Lucas Moura 14 seconds after he entered the field as a substitute.
The diminutive Brazil winger ran straight toward the penalty area to line up for his team’s corner and rose highest — somewhat improbably — to send a glancing header looping into the net in the 56th.
Aguero was substituted soon after that goal and exchanged some strong words on the sideline with Guardiola as he sat down. The pair was seen embracing near the end of the match, however, suggesting they patched up their differences.
The result leaves City two points behind Liverpool, the team expected again to be its biggest rival for the title.
Liverpool beat Southampton 2-1 earlier.
ADRIAN’S CRAZY WEEK
In the space of nine days, Spanish goalkeeper Adrian has made his Liverpool debut as an injury substitute, saved the decisive penalty to win the club the UEFA Super Cup, got injured by a pitch-invading fan, and made an embarrassing error in a Premier League game.
To say it has been a roller-coaster start to life at Anfield would be an understatement.
Adrian, an offseason signing filling in for the injured Alisson Becker, was a doubt for Liverpool’s match at Southampton after a fan slid into the goalkeeper’s ankle while the team celebrated his crucial penalty stop in a shootout win over Chelsea in the UEFA Super Cup on Wednesday. He was declared fit on the morning of the match and made some good saves before Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino put Liverpool 2-0 up at St. Mary’s.
Adrian ensured there was a nervy finish when he kicked a clearance straight at Southampton striker Danny Ings and saw the ball rebound into the net in the 83rd.
Liverpool hung on, though, for a second straight win after beating Norwich.
PUKKI PEAKING
Teemu Pukki scored a division-high 29 goals to proper Norwich to the second-tier League Championship title last season.
He cannot stop scoring in the Premier League, either.
After his consolation goal at Anfield on the opening weekend, the Finland striker added another three in dismantling sorry Newcastle as top-flight soccer returned to Carrow Road.
“The guys are creating chances — I could have scored more,” Pukki said.
Newcastle has lost both of its opening games under new manager Steve Bruce.
AUBAMEYANG AGAIN
Another striker to have started the season strongly is Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who has grabbed winning goals in each of Arsenal’s first two games.
A week after scoring the only goal at Newcastle, Aubameyang led Arsenal to a 2-1 win over Burnley with a shot inside the near post from the edge of the area. He was tied as the top scorer last season with Liverpool attackers Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane.
The standout player for Arsenal, though, was Dani Ceballos, who is on a season-long loan from Real Madrid. He set up both goals — the first was scored by Alexandre Lacazette — and showed the touch and vision Arsenal has been missing since the departure of another Spanish playmaker, Santi Cazorla.
WINS FOR EVERTON, BOURNEMOUTH
Everton and Bournemouth got their first wins after opening the season with draws.
Brazilian winger Bernard scored in the first half to secure a 1-0 victory for Everton against Watford, while Bournemouth built on a second-minute penalty from Josh King and beat Aston Villa 2-1.
Jack Grealish, the Villa captain, has lost a record 20 straight Premier League games, stretching back to when the team was last in the top flight in 2015-16.
Brighton and West Ham drew 1-1 in the other match.