FIFA ban had ‘huge effect’ on Kuwait

1 / 2
The Kuwait team are now free to resume competitive international football after their suspension was lifted. (Shutterstock)
2 / 2
Talal Al-Fadhel
Updated 09 December 2017

FIFA ban had ‘huge effect’ on Kuwait

LONDON: Finally, after 782 long days Kuwait are back after FIFA lifted its suspension, but the two-year hiatus has killed off a generation of talent according to national team defender Talal Al-Fadhel.
Kuwait were plunged into footballing exile for 24 months after its government was accused of interfering in how the soccer federation was being run. FIFA says the “Kuwait Parliament has adopted a new sports law” which now complies with its statutes and leaves them free to resume competition, but Al-Fadhel feels some lasting damage has been done.
“I feel despair,” the 27-year-old told Arab News in an exclusive interview. “It’s had a huge effect both at home and abroad. Domestically the Kuwaiti players have no real ambition at present. Internationally, our ranking has plummeted, our national team doesn’t play and our clubs don’t take part in international competitions. I didn’t expect the suspension to last this long, it has finished off a generation completely.”
Kuwait once ruled Asian football, winning the Asian Cup on home soil in 1980, qualifying for the 1980 Olympic Games and the 1982 World Cup, their only appearance at either tournament, and winning seven of the 10 Gulf Cup titles between 1970 and 1990.
Those sides featured players who are still revered to this day, the likes of lethal strike duo Jasem Yaqoub and Faisal Al-Dakhil, industrious midfielder Fathi Kameel and captain Saad Al-Houti.
But those glory days must seem like a lifetime ago for the long-suffering fans of Al-Azraq, as Kuwaiti football falls further and further behind their Gulf rivals, with players and clubs devoid of any international football for more than two years, and their FIFA ranking dropping to an embarrassing all-time low of 186.
Al-Fadhel was a member of Kuwait’s 23-man squad for the 2015 AFC Asian Cup in Australia at the age 24, but was an unused substitute in all three games before Kuwait’s elimination in the group stage. Despite his lack of actual game time for the national team since his debut in 2013, as he was entering the peak of his career, he was hoping to force his way into Nabil Maâloul’s side.
“Of course, every player has that desire (to play more regularly),” he said. “And I was expecting the same.”
Three years on, now aged 27, he has lost three years of his career that he can never get back.
Prior to their suspension, Kuwait had started their joint qualification for the 2018 World Cup and 2019 AFC Asian Cup in fine form, losing only one of their first five matches, a narrow 1-0 loss to South Korea, and were in a good position to progress to the final round of qualifying for the first time since qualification for the 2006 World Cup.
Progression to the final round would also have guaranteed qualification for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup in the UAE. That dream is now gone. Kuwait will have to watch on in January 2019 as all their fellow Gulf neighbors chase continental glory.
“I felt disappointed,” Al-Fadhel said of their expulsion from qualifying. “Especially as we were very close to qualifying for the second round, (which) the national team hadn’t achieved in a while.”
That is a feeling shared by one of Kuwait’s former superstars, the captain of their 1980 AFC Asian Cup winning team, Saad Al-Houti. “Naturally we are disappointed not to participate in World Cup qualifiers and the Asian Cup,” Al-Houti, who also captained the team at the 1982 World Cup, exclusively told Arab News.
“There will be a lot of disappointment for Kuwait fans, not just in Kuwait but also Arabs who love our national team which creates a glorious name for itself in many competitions.”
Al-Houti is now a member of the Kuwait Football Association executive committee, and last year had the chance to speak directly with new FIFA president Gianni Infantino about the ban, leading a delegation of Kuwaiti officials to the FIFA Congress in Mexico City last May to plead for the ban to be lifted.
“This is very hard to accept,” Al-Houti said at the time. “We just want to show we are separate from the government and we want to return things as they were before because this is doing us very great harm.”
Recalling his meeting with Infantino, Al-Houti remains disappointed by the FIFA president’s actions in the Mexican capital.
“When I saw the FIFA president in Mexico, I went and said hello and courageously told him that we came to have the ban lifted and that we need our youth to raise the Kuwaiti flag in international sports events,” Al-Houti explained.
“He literally told me that he will have a speech explaining the situation and that he will be neutral, but I was surprised by his speech that he supported the ban.”
After the election earlier this month of a new head of the Kuwait Football Association, Sheikh Ahmad Al-Yusef Al-Sabah, there was renewed hope that an end to the saga may be in sight, with Sheikh Ahmad saying he had “many goals, first and foremost lifting the suspension.”
On Sunday, Kuwait’s Parliament approved a draft law aimed at ending the bans by FIFA and the International Olympic Committee, and on Tuesday Infantino arrived in the country to officially announce the suspension had been lifted. Al-Fadhel, who signed for Omani side Saham Club in September, is hoping it does not come too late for him to continue his international areer.
“God willing, I hope I can play for the national team after the end of the suspension as I am only 27 years old.”


The NBA MVP finalists: Antetokounmpo, James and Harden

Updated 09 August 2020

The NBA MVP finalists: Antetokounmpo, James and Harden

  • James would join Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (a six-time winner), Michael Jordan and Bill Russell as the NBA’s only five-time MVPs
  • Antetokounmpo is bidding to become the 12th back-to-back winner of the award

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Florida: This season’s NBA MVP has won the award before.
A trio of past winners of the award — reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks, four-time MVP LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers and 2017-18 winner James Harden of the Houston Rockets — were announced Saturday as the finalists for this season’s top NBA individual honor.
James would join Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (a six-time winner), Michael Jordan and Bill Russell as the NBA’s only five-time MVPs. Antetokounmpo is bidding to become the 12th back-to-back winner of the award, and Harden is vying for his second MVP in three seasons.
“He’s an incredible teammate, plays unselfishly, does everything,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said of Antetokounmpo last month, stating his best player’s MVP case. “And I think that’s kind of what the MVP is, so we certainly feel like he’s very deserving and we’ll be excited to support him.”
Antetokounmpo is also a finalist for Defensive Player of the Year, while Utah’s Rudy Gobert is bidding to win that trophy for a third consecutive season.
The league announced the top three vote-getters in six individual categories. Voting has already taken place by a global panel of sportswriters and broadcasters.
The NBA has not set specific dates when the winners will be announced.
None of the games taking place at the NBA’s restart at Walt Disney World factored into the voting, because ballots were due before games began again July 30.
The league took the step of saying games played before the league suspended the season on March 11 because of the coronavirus pandemic could factor into award consideration, out of fairness to the eight teams that were not invited to the restart.
The other finalists for NBA honors:
Rookie of the Year — Ja Morant, Memphis; Kendrick Nunn, Miami; Zion Williamson, New Orleans.
Most Improved Player — Bam Adebayo, Miami; Luka Doncic, Dallas; Brandon Ingram, New Orleans.
Sixth Man — Montrezl Harrell, Los Angeles Clippers; Dennis Schroder, Oklahoma City; Lou Williams, Los Angeles Clippers.
Defensive Player of the Year — Antetokounmpo; Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers; Rudy Gobert, Utah.
Coach of the Year — Mike Budenholzer, Milwaukee; Billy Donovan, Oklahoma City; Nick Nurse, Toronto.


GASOL VS. GRIZZLIES
Marc Gasol spent parts of 11 seasons in Memphis, going to three All-Star Games with a Grizzlies jersey on his back, earning two All-NBA selections there and a Defensive Player of the Year award as well.
And now, he’ll play against his former team for the first time.
The Grizzlies face Gasol and the Toronto Raptors on Sunday. It’ll be the first game between the clubs since Gasol was traded to Toronto in February 2019 — a move that helped the Raptors win last season’s NBA championship.
Gasol said facing Memphis would be emotional.
“I got there when I was 16 years old. It was my first time out of Spain,” said Gasol, who still owns his Memphis home. “I started high school there as a teenager and left as a father of two kids. ... My ties to the city and my roots go pretty deep and my love for the people there, what they mean and the franchise, it’s forever.”
Gasol helped Memphis make the playoffs in seven consecutive seasons including the 2013 run to the Western Conference finals. He is the Grizzlies’ all-time leader for minutes played, field goals made, free throws made and attempted, rebounds, blocks and triple-doubles and is second in points — 49 behind Mike Conley.
The Raptors were supposed to have played back-to-back games against Memphis this season, going there March 28 and then playing host to the Grizzlies March 30. Those games, of course, were called off because of the season suspension caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Obviously it’s a little bittersweet that we couldn’t play in the city of Memphis, to get that love and feel that Iove from the fans,” Raptors guard Fred VanVleet said. “But I’m sure he’ll be happy to see some familiar faces and a lot of the people that he spent a lot of time with over the years.”


WORKING WIZARDS
On Friday, the Washington Wizards were eliminated from playoff contention.
On Saturday, they practiced.
The Wizards knew they were playoff longshots even before coming to the NBA’s restart at Disney, especially since Bradley Beal didn’t make the trip because of injury and Davis Bertans opted not to play because of health concerns.
But these eight games — Washington is 0-5 at Disney with three games left — were considered learning opportunities for the team’s young players, and a chance to get some high-level work in before the offseason starts. And just because the playoff chances are now gone doesn’t mean Wizards coach Scott Brooks is changing his thinking on that front.
“It’s about getting better,” Brooks said. “You know, I love our group. We want to keep improving. And the record, I’m not happy with it but I’m happy with our effort after every game that we’ve been in.”
Brooks has told his team repeatedly at Disney that the losses go on his record, not theirs.
“You can’t waste the days, you have to keep working on each day and keep improving and it’s hard,” Brooks said. “It’s hard to go through, you know, five losses in a row. But in order to get where we need to get to, you’re going to have to deal with it. You’re going to have to be able to handle it. You’re going to have to be able to get better from it, and it also has to hurt, going through it. And that’s fine.”


BUCKS CLINCH
The road to the NBA championship will go through Milwaukee’s white uniforms.
The Bucks have secured the top overall seed in the NBA playoffs for the second consecutive year, the clincher coming when the Los Angeles Lakers lost to Indiana on Saturday.
Ordinarily, that would come with the right to host Game 1 and Game 7 of every series. This year, it just means that the Bucks will be called the home team in those games in each postseason round that they reach.