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

1 / 5
Turki Al-Sheikh with the Green Falcons. (AFP)
2 / 5
Turki Al-Sheikh was named the 2017 Most Influential Arab Sports Personality of the Year at the 12th Dubai International Sports Conference. (Supplied)
3 / 5
4 / 5
5 / 5
Updated 08 September 2018
0

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.


Pakistan collapse to gift first Test to New Zealand in Abu Dhabi

Updated 19 November 2018
0

Pakistan collapse to gift first Test to New Zealand in Abu Dhabi

  • Hosts see wickets tumble as they collapse from from 130 for three to 171 all out.
  • Black Caps win by four runs — the fifth smallest win in Test history.

ABU DHABI: Debutant spinner Ajaz Patel took five wickets to lead a never-say-die approach from New Zealand bowlers as they pulled off a thrilling four-run win over an indisciplined Pakistan in the first Test in Abu Dhabi on Monday.
Defending a modest 176-run target, New Zealand bowlers led by Patel (five for 59), fast bowler Neil Wagner (two for 27) and Ish Sodhi (two for 37) bowled out Pakistan for 171 on a drama-packed fourth day at Sheikh Zayed Stadium.
It is the fifth smallest win in terms of runs in Test cricket’s history and gives New Zealand a 1-0 lead in the three-match series.
Azhar Ali fought a lone battle for Pakistan with 65 and was the last man out when he was trapped leg-before wicket by Patel. He reviewed Bruce Oxenford’s decision but the television replays upheld the decision.
Resuming on 37 without loss, Pakistan began the day as favorites to chase down the 176 they needed for victory although New Zealand will have taken some hope from Pakistan’s failure at the same ground last year to chase 136 against Sri Lanka.
Kiwi spinners Patel and Ish Sodhi opened the bowling and immediately caused problems as Pakistan lost three wickets in the first six overs.
Imam-ul-Haq was trapped leg-before for 27 to a full length ball by left-arm spinner Patel in the fifth over. In the sixth, Sodhi had Mohammad Hafeez caught in the covers and then three balls later held on to a return catch low to his left as Haris Sohail drove a full toss back at him.
Pakistani nerves were eased by the sight of Azhar and Asad Shafiq carefully rebuilding the innings with a fourth wicket partnership of 82.
Shafiq made a cultured 45, becoming the 11th Pakistani to reach 4,000 runs in Test cricket, but his dismissal in the last over before lunch, edging Neil Wagner to wicketkeeper BJ Watling, changed the game as Pakistan lost their final seven wickets for just 41.
After lunch, Babar Azam ran himself out for 13, the guilty party in a mix-up with Azhar and skipper Sarfraz Ahmed fell for a second time sweeping Patel, this time gloving the ball to Watling.
Bilal Asif tried to slog a straight ball from Patel and was bowled leaving Pakistan 154 for seven, still 22 runs short of victory.
The earlier measure at the crease had been replaced by chaos. In the next over Wagner had Yasir Shah caught in the slips and then Hasan Ali attempted a slog-sweep off Patel, picking out substitute fielder Tim Southee on the midwicket boundary.
Azhar then tried to inch Pakistan across the line, farming the strike from Mohammad Abbas.
But with five runs still needed to win Patel found the delivery to win the match for New Zealand.
The second Test starts in Dubai from Saturday while the third and final, again in Abu Dhabi from Dec. 3.