Jordan strikes blow for women’s football across the Middle East in AFC Asian Cup

Jordan strikes blow for women’s football across the Middle East in AFC Asian Cup
TRAILBLAZER: Maysa Jbarah (L) of Jordan tussles for the ball with Vietnam opponent Nguyen Thi Nga during the AFC Women’s Asian Cup tournament in 2014. (AFP)
Updated 31 March 2018

Jordan strikes blow for women’s football across the Middle East in AFC Asian Cup

Jordan strikes blow for women’s football across the Middle East in AFC Asian Cup

DUBAI: In 10 weeks’ time, the World Cup kicks off in Russia and Middle East audiences, as much as any around the world if not more, will tune in to see how Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Tunisia, not to mention Germany, Brazil, Spain, France and England, will get on.
Before that, however, there is one competition far closer to home that in many ways will perhaps have a longer-lasting impact on Middle East football.
In five days, the 2018 AFC Women’s Asian Cup kicks off in Amman, bringing the continent’s best 16 teams to an Arab country for the first time.
Only one Arab team, hosts Jordan, will compete. But the importance of their participation will send a positive message to the region.
Jordan are the highest-ranked Arab team in the world, at 51 in FIFA’s rankings. The next best is Morocco at 73, while Bahrain are 77th and Egypt 78th. The UAE (the next highest Gulf team) are at 81 in the world.
Sadly, no other Arab nation from the Asian Football Federation (AFC) are close.
Being the only Arab team at the tournament may be a heavy burden, but it is one that Jordan’s players will be happy to shoulder in front of their own fans.
The hosts have been drawn in Group A with China, Thailand and the Philippines. Group B has Japan, Australia, South Korea and Vietnam.
Coach Michael Dickey’s team will not take their opponents lightly, but they will be pleased to avoid the three teams that beat them in the group stages of the 2014 AFC Women’s Asian Cup: Japan, Australia and hosts Vietnam.
The team is better prepared this time, with star players such as captain Stephanie Al-Naber and goal machine Maysa Jbarah set to play important roles.
A lot will depend on whether Jordan can reproduce their form of the past couple of years against West Asia’s teams when it really matters against the continent’s stronger nations.
But the tournament is about more than goals and results.
At the turn of the century, women’s football across the Arab world barely existed in any meaningful sense.
That is not surprising, for a host of sociopolitical, cultural, sporting and logistical reasons.
We live in a different landscape now. Jordan continues to blaze a trail for Arab women’s teams. In 2016, the country hosted the U17 women’s World Cup, which was won by North Korea. Jordan were knocked out after losing to Spain, Mexico and New Zealand.
Yet the 16-team tournament was Jordan’s first FIFA-sanctioned competition and empowerment has come from high places.
“To have young girls playing sports, and playing football specifically, can do so much to change attitudes and perceptions as to how society perceives women,” said Jordan’s Queen Rania.
“If a Jordanian woman wants to play football, I say ‘go for it.’ Because you are a role model for society, for changing traditional roles and challenging negative perceptions regarding women. And football is the healthiest and most inspiring way to do this.”
Clearly, it is too early to compare women’s football in the Arab world to the men’s game in the Middle East or to other women’s teams around the world. For now, it is enough to see the improvement in the region itself over the past decade or so. Across the rest of the Arab world, women’s football is starting to be taken seriously.
Apart from pioneers such as Jordan, Tunisia and Morocco, Bahrain was the first to set up a women’s team in the Gulf, in 2003.
In the past five years, the UAE Football Association has arguably done more than any other national body to promote the game among females, from grassroots initiatives to setting up a league that included local Emirati clubs as well as expatriate sides.
Although the UAE failed to qualify for next week’s competition in Jordan, modest but steady progress is being achieved.
“We have played in a lot of competitions, especially in the AFC Asian Cup qualification in Tajikistan,” UAE women’s coach Houriya Al-Taheri said.
“That was a very big jump in terms of improvement in the performances of the players. It helped their understanding of the game; now they know a different level of football, not just the development level. They saw how Jordan, who were in our group, are one of the best Arab and West Asia teams.”
As mentioned by Al-Taheri, Jordan took part in the qualifications despite being guaranteed a place at the tournament as hosts, the idea being to gain as much experience as possible.
It is hoped that such attitude and dedication will translate to performances on the pitch, starting this week.
But whatever the results, and before a ball has been kicked, Jordan has already struck an important blow for women’s football across the Arab world.


Mercedes-Benz EQ, NEOM bask in success of Diriyah E-Prix

Mercedes-Benz EQ, NEOM bask in success of Diriyah E-Prix
Updated 03 March 2021

Mercedes-Benz EQ, NEOM bask in success of Diriyah E-Prix

Mercedes-Benz EQ, NEOM bask in success of Diriyah E-Prix
  • Dutch driver Nyck de Vries leads ABB FIA Formula E World Championship after opening weekend win

DIRIYAH: Having celebrated a successful weekend at the Diriyah E-Prix, the Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team and its principal partner NEOM have expressed their joy at the way the opening rounds of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship in Saudi Arabia have worked out for both parties.

On Friday, at the first ever night race to take place in Formula E, Nyck de Vries claimed a dominant victory for the German manufacturer in front of a delegation from NEOM. The Dutchman led the race from lights-to-flag, having set the quickest time in qualifying to start in pole position.

Ian James, Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team principal, said: “Both Nyck and (Belgian driver) Stoffel (Vandoorne) were able to demonstrate in Diriyah that we have developed a competitive package with the Mercedes-EQ Silver Arrow 02.

“Nyck’s performance and control of every session from FP1 to the first race is something which had not previously been seen in Formula E. We have been confident in his potential from the outset, and it’s great that the experience he developed throughout his first season has now been translated into his first Formula E win.”

De Vries continued his fast pace in Saturday’s second E-Prix, earning an additional championship point for the fastest lap, as he drove through the field to finish in ninth place following a challenging start to the day for the team. De Vries leaves Saudi Arabia at the top of the Drivers’ Championship, with 32 points from the opening weekend.

“It’s been terrific to be back on track and also to have many of our partners here to support us to kick-off the first FIA World Championship Season,” James added.

“I’d like to thank NEOM and all team partners for their continued support. It’s been a good start to season seven and we look forward to building on this for the next race.”

The partnership with Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team aims to accelerate NEOM’s ambitions to be at the vanguard of future technology and mobility and become a center for sporting excellence.

Jan Paterson, managing director of sport at NEOM, said: “It was great to see such a strong performance from the Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team in the season opener in Diriyah.

“Working alongside the team is of key importance for us to realize our ambition to become a center of sporting excellence and a major participant in the world’s sporting landscape, and this weekend offered our employees a unique chance to engage and learn from a world-class team.”

As part of the knowledge-sharing program between the two organizations, 70 NEOM employees and stakeholders attended the Diriyah E-Prix, adhering to strict coronavirus disease (COVID-19) safety protocols. During the pit lane walk, the delegation got a first-hand impression of how the world’s first net carbon-zero sport is accelerating adoption of electric vehicles.

Ahead of the start of the sport’s first FIA World Championship season, Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team racer Vandoorne put the Mercedes-EQ Silver Arrow 02 through its paces along the spectacular Magna Road in NEOM in the north-western corner of the Kingdom.


Documentary highlights Saudi Greens’ tournament run in 2019

Documentary highlights Saudi Greens’ tournament run in 2019
Updated 03 March 2021

Documentary highlights Saudi Greens’ tournament run in 2019

Documentary highlights Saudi Greens’ tournament run in 2019
  • All-female team competed in New York City while also promoting environmental causes

RIYADH: The profile of women’s football in Saudi Arabia continues to rise.

The first Women’s Football League was established in the Kingdom last year and now a new film documenting the historic appearance of the Saudi Greens at the 2019 Global Goals World Cup (GGWCup) is being released by the Saudi Sports for All Federation (SFA).

Launched across the SFA website, its YouTube channel and social media accounts last week, the documentary chronicles the all-women Saudi football team’s journey at the GGWCup in New York City.

It was the first time a female sports team from the Kingdom had ever competed in the US, but the team’s involvement went beyond just a sporting achievement.

The tournament framed the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a sport, as 30 teams worldwide competed to create the kind of world they would like to see. Each team created an action plan with a particular global goal and strived to achieve it in their own country while also competing in five-a-side football tournaments.

Regional qualifying rounds determined which teams progressed to the finals in New York, where the winner was decided based on the impact of its activism and performance on the pitch.

In 2019, the Greens focused on SDG 15 “Life on Land,” bringing attention to the effects of single-use plastics on the environment. Prior to the tournament, team members hosted community events and campaigns across the Kingdom, helping to educate people on the impact of plastics and the wider SDGs in general.

The team distributed reusable bags, collected litter, held awareness talks, and collaborated with local schools and sports clubs to collect plastic bottles and teach children about the importance of recycling.

After they progressed through qualifiers in Copenhagen, the Greens joined 14 other teams at the 2019 finals, where they finished in second place. 

The documentary highlights the team’s experience in New York, but not just in footballing terms. The film also reflects on the team’s social development, international bridge-building and the Greens’ role in boosting female empowerment within Saudi Arabia.

The Greens were formed in 2018 with support from the SFA, the Saudi Ministry of Sports and the country’s Olympic Committee. Less than three year later, the team has come to symbolize progress and female empowerment in the Kingdom.

Since the tournament, the team has hosted virtual workout sessions for the GGWCup Clubhouse, contributed to SFA events and initiatives, and paved the way for the Women’s Football League, which was launched last February.

The latest role for the team will be as ambassadors for the upcoming GGWCup Saudi Arabia – the Kingdom’s first qualifying round of the global competition – due to take place this year.


Golf Saudi launches ‘Power of the Game’ podcast

Golf fans in Saudi Arabia can now get the inside track to the Kingdom’s plans for the game via Golf Saudi’s brand-new podcast – Power of the Game. (Supplied)
Golf fans in Saudi Arabia can now get the inside track to the Kingdom’s plans for the game via Golf Saudi’s brand-new podcast – Power of the Game. (Supplied)
Updated 02 March 2021

Golf Saudi launches ‘Power of the Game’ podcast

Golf fans in Saudi Arabia can now get the inside track to the Kingdom’s plans for the game via Golf Saudi’s brand-new podcast – Power of the Game. (Supplied)
  • The podcast series is hosted by Dubai Eye’s golf obsessive Robbie Greenfield

LONDON: Golf fans in Saudi Arabia can now get the inside track to the Kingdom’s plans for the game via Golf Saudi’s brand-new podcast – Power of the Game.

The series has been launched to explore the creation of new golf courses, efforts to bring new players into the game and shed light on Saudi Arabia’s golf sustainability mission, as it seeks to establish the world’s most integrated golfing ecosystem.  

The podcast series is hosted by Dubai Eye’s golf obsessive Robbie Greenfield, who will regularly invite guests to discuss their involvement in golf development in the Kingdom.

The first five episodes have been released on Tuesday as a “box-set” and include discussions with Ladies European Tour CEO, Alex Armas, 2018 Ryder Cup Captain Thomas Bjorn and an exclusive feature with Jack Nicklaus, who describes the designs for his new golf course at Qiddiya.

The podcast series underlines Golf Saudi’s ambition and its connectivity to the national Vision 2030 program and will emphasise Saudi Arabia’s role in establishing new global benchmarks across its six pillars: Access and Infrastructure, Events, National Team and Academies, Sustainability, Mass Participation and Tourism.

These will deliver key metrics in the next decade for the country, including having up to 27,000 registered golfers in the Kingdom and ensuring over one million Saudi nationals have actively tried golf. 

Commenting on the new podcast for the country, Majed Al Sorour, CEO of Golf Saudi and The Saudi Golf Federation, said: “At Golf Saudi, we have a number of over-arching aspirations for golf in the Kingdom and we wanted to give our new listeners the chance to hear more about these. We have laid out major plans for the socio-economic growth and development of the golf in the Kingdom, through tourism, commerce, investment and the entertainment sectors and are working with many amazing organisations and people to deliver these.  

“These are hugely exciting times and through the ‘Power of the Game’ podcast series we hope the stories of the work we are doing and the passion shown by these individuals shines through and gives our listeners a better view than ever of the scale of our ambition.” 

Listeners will be able to tune into each episode via major podcast providers: Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts and Stitcher.  


Life-altering operation keeps Olympic dream alive for Emirati surfer

Life-altering operation keeps Olympic dream alive for Emirati surfer
Updated 02 March 2021

Life-altering operation keeps Olympic dream alive for Emirati surfer

Life-altering operation keeps Olympic dream alive for Emirati surfer
  • Mohammad Hassan had his colon removed after years of discomfort. Now he has Tokyo in his sights
  • The operation to have the Stoma changed his life for the better and kept the dream alive, and now he is faced with option of having another operation which would do away with the bag

DUBAI: On his surfboard, waiting for the next wave.

Mohammad Hassan is never happier than when he is alone in the water.

The story of the Emirati’s attempt to be the only Arab surfer at the Tokyo Olympics would be inspiring at the best of times. But as it happens, Hassan also had to overcome a debilitating and life-threatening disease to follow his dream.

The baggage, in his case, is quite literal.

In August 2020, the 33-year-old had his colon removed, and the professional surfer now passes solid waste through a stoma in his abdomen that connects to a waterproof pouch called an ostomy bag.

“The first thing that came to my mind was, would I be able to live a normal life,” he said of his post-surgery state of mind.

“Would I be able to do my sports? All these things kicked in, and also looking at surgery itself, because I had to have a stoma, the first thing that came up was, would I be able to lay down on my board? Especially as I was trying to qualify for the Olympics.”

A naturally positive person, Hassan was nonetheless racked with concerns.

Will I be able to compete? Will I be able to do all the things I did before?

“Having the stoma was very difficult,” he said. “In my mind it was very difficult to lay down on my board, that was the main concern.”

Diagnosed with ulcerative colitis 15-years-ago meant that Hassan, a talented football and rugby player, could barely function in his everyday life, never mind in competitive sports.

Leaving the pitch every few minutes for bathroom break soon ended his team sports aspirations.

After moving to Australia, the Emirati increasingly found solace in surfing.

“Watersports were the perfect scenario,” he said. “I could sit in the water, enjoy my time.”

“[At first] I never knew what surfing was,” he said.

“So when I got injured playing rugby, through rehabilitation in the water I saw people surf and that’s how I got into it. I really enjoy the water. Water was my escape from everything. Every time I would go in the water, I’d feel at ease, I’d feel really good, I’d forget everything that happened during the day. And when I found sport I could do in the water, that was it, I clicked with it.”

He would carry his love of surfing with him to the US and eventually back home to the UAE.

“Sports come naturally to me, but I picked up surfing super well,” said Hassan, who was encouraged to pick the sport by his Australian friends.

“From the first time I caught the first wave, it felt good, it felt comfortable. I think I picked up really quick. I was born a surfer.”

But over the years medication could not improve Hassan’s illness, and he returned to the UAE two years ago.

During a routine follow-up for a patient with ulcerative colitis, a colonoscopy revealed pre-cancerous cells in Hassan’s colon. What was a daily inconvenience became life-threatening.

A team of surgeons and pathologists at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi advised a total colectomy – the removal of the colon.

Successful surgery meant saving his life by eliminating cancer, and effectively curing his colitis, eliminating his symptoms.

Hassan would have to carry the bag with him, but he had his life back.

That he was soon back on his surfboard and dreaming of Olympic glory is testament to his willpower as much as it is to the team of doctors.

“In the past we used to do surgeries like this the traditional way,” said Dr. Shafik Sidani, the colorectal surgeon who performed the surgery at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi.

“Which is open [surgery], big incision down the abdomen and basically the patients stay for many days if not weeks in the hospital. They don’t eat and drink for a while and when they recover, it’s slow recovery.”

Modern advances mean such operations are now carried out with small keyhole incisions, ensuring less pain and quicker recovery time for the patients.

A procedure called Enhanced Recovery After Surgery (ERAS) played a big role in Hassan’s return to a normal life.

“It’s basically a pathway in patient care that starts the moment the patient walks through the door with a diagnosis,” Sidani added.

“We prepare the patient for surgery physically, mentally and we set expectations, we educate the patient. We involve the patient in the care and the decision of the treatment.”

“Mo added another element to all this in that the stars aligned with him and with our pathway, with his motivations, his expectations and what he wanted out of this,” the doctor added.

“So he took it to another level, really pushed himself to recover quicker. He didn’t play the sick role for as long, he tried to move on.”

Now Hassan is taking the steps back into professional surfing and looking to emulate some of his heroes

“My favorites are ‘John John’ Florence and Julian Wilson,” he said.

“I really enjoyed the way they surf, I enjoyed their creativity on the water, and I really like their Air Game, so they were my go-to surfers. I surfed with John John so that was dream come true."

Pursuing the biggest dream of all, surfing in the Olympics, did not happen overnight. The World Cup of surfing came first.

“My coach Matt told me, ‘why don’t you compete for the UAE? I don’t think anyone has competed from the Gulf countries.’ Give it a go, I’m going to teach you, I’m going to help you out and we’ll see how it goes’. I agreed,” Hassan recalls of a conversation in 2018.

It worked.

Qualification to the World Surfing Games followed, where he was the only surfer form the Middle East.

Then came the World Qualification Series (WQS) for the World Surf League. A few wins got him “excited”.

And when surfing was announced as an Olympic sport for the Tokyo Games, his path was set.

The operation to have the Stoma changed his life for the better and kept the dream alive, and now he is faced with option of having another operation which would do away with the bag.

It’s a decision he is pondering as he is happy with the quality of life he is currently enjoying, as proven by his participation in the Dubai Fitness Challenge 2020, playing 30 different sports in 30 days.

The Final Olympic Surfing Qualifier in El Salvador at the end of May will determine his fate.

Hassan admits to being a bit rusty after the operation, and Covid-19 restrictions have not helped his training program.

But it will all be worth it if he makes it to Japan wearing his country’s colors.

And what would it mean to represent the UAE at the Olympics?

“Everything,” Hassan said. “The UAE has given me so much, and I think this is the time for me to pay it back.”


Sister act as Korda romps to Gainbridge LPGA win

Sister act as Korda romps to Gainbridge LPGA win
Updated 02 March 2021

Sister act as Korda romps to Gainbridge LPGA win

Sister act as Korda romps to Gainbridge LPGA win
  • Three birdies in her opening six holes gave her a healthy cushion at the top of the leaderboard, leaving her five shots clear at one stage

MIAMI: Nelly Korda produced a flawless final round to claim a three-shot victory at the Gainbridge LPGA tournament in Florida on Sunday.

Korda — whose elder sister Jessica won the LPGA Tour’s previous event, the season-opening Tournament of Champions in January — fired a three-under-par 69 to finish on 16 under.

The 22-year-old, whose father is former Czech tennis star Petr Korda, had opened up a one-shot lead on Saturday with a four-under-par 68.

On Sunday at Orlando’s Lake Nona Golf and Country Club, she picked up where she left off in the third round.

Three birdies in her opening six holes gave her a healthy cushion at the top of the leaderboard, leaving her five shots clear at one stage.

She then reeled off 12 consecutive pars to remain in control and close out the fourth LPGA Tour victory of her career with her parents and sister Jessica rushing to congratulate her on the 18th green.

“Honestly I did not play very good golf today,” Korda told a television interviewer moments after clinching her first career win on US soil.

“I just stayed really solid. I honestly don’t know how I did it. It was definitely very stressful.

“Winning in front of my parents was a first too, so that was really nice.”

Korda’s 72-hole aggregate 272 left her three clear of Lexi Thompson and Lydia Ko who finished tied for second on 13 under.

Thompson had closed to within three of Korda with a brilliant eagle three at the par-five 11th, but a bogey on the following hole stymied her chances of mounting a charge down the stretch. Thompson finished with a four-under-par 68.

New Zealand’s former world No. 1 Ko stormed up the leaderboard at the start of the back nine with four consecutive birdies starting on the 12th hole, eventually carding a three-under-par 69.

World number one Ko Jin-young meanwhile finished five off the lead in fourth place on 11 under. Ko posted a one-under-par-71 after an erratic final round that included four birdies and three bogeys.

There was disappointment for Thailand’s Patty Tavatanakit, who had started the day one off the lead.

The 21-year-old rookie faded with a two-over-par 74, with two bogeys and a double bogey on the front nine dropping her out of contention.

Tavatanakit finished on 10 under alongside Australia’s Sarah Kemp, who shot a three-under-par 69.

Meanwhile, LPGA great Annika Sorenstam, who parred her final hole on Friday to make the cut in her first tour start since 2008, closed with a four-over-par 76, propping up the leaderboard on 13 over.