Arabian Gulf League CEO shares bright vision for the future

Arabian Gulf League CEO shares bright vision for the future
Waleed Al-Hosani has been Arabian Gulf League CEO for 18 months. (Supplied)
Updated 22 April 2018

Arabian Gulf League CEO shares bright vision for the future

Arabian Gulf League CEO shares bright vision for the future
  • Waleed Al-Hosani has been Arabian Gulf League CEO for 18 months
  • Al-Hosani's vision for the league includes making attending matches more appealing to fans

DUBAI In an unassuming office 
block above an Audi showroom in Abu Dhabi, Waleed Al-Hosani is plotting the future of professional football in the UAE.
It is a task that requires creativity and the Pro League Committee (PLC) workspace is certainly conducive to that; a replica substitutes’ bench complete with leather chairs sits in the reception area, while a running track weaves its way among the desks and chairs.
The PLC office is bright and innovative, mirroring Al-Hosani, who for 18 months has been the organization’s CEO. In that time, the Emirati has already demonstrated significantly more foresight than his predecessors. Al-Hosani’s goal is to reinvigorate the Arabian Gulf League (AGL).
From the outside, it may appear that it does not need reinvigorating. UAE clubs have appeared in two of the past three AFC Champions League finals and the UAE has been ranked as the AFC’s best league for the past four years. Millions of dollars have been plowed into the AGL, with marquee players improving the standard of football and ensuring progress to the latter stages of continental tournaments.
Competitiveness is not, however, the criteria that concerns Al-Hosani.
Last season, the average attendance for AGL matches was just 2,500. The league commands some princely sums in TV rights and reportedly attracts an impressive viewership of up to eight million people. But empty stands are a source of both embarrassment and worry.
Tackling this fan apathy is the central tenet of the PLC’s new four-year plan, introduced at the start of the 2017-18 season.
“Poor attendances is the biggest issue we are facing in the Arabian Gulf League,” Al Hosani told Arab News.
“When the Pro League Committee first launched in 2007, the focus was on investing in the teams, getting better players from around the world and creating a big buzz in the media.
“Unfortunately they didn’t manage to balance this with community engagement. This has resulted in clubs becoming closed, not realizing the role they can play in the community and the responsibilities they have to preserve and develop their fanbase.”
This failure by the clubs strikes a personal chord with Al-Hosani. Raised within a stone’s throw from Al-Wahda FC in Abu Dhabi, the PLC chief spent his childhood immersed in the club.
“For many of us, Al-Wahda was our life,” he recalled. “Of course we played football there whenever we could. But beyond that they put on classes to helped us with maths and English, we went bowling — there were a lot of activities. It created loyalty between us and the club.
“Somewhere along the way, this was lost. You look around the AGL and that sort of environment doesn’t exist. I think I’m fortunate I had this experience in my childhood as I can now try to recreate that feeling for people again.”
Diverting money away from transfers and salaries and into infrastructure has been the PLC’s main aim this season. Each club now has a budget set aside for marketing and community activities, which must be designed with long-term benefits in mind.
“A lot of clubs want to use the money for 
prizes but you cannot buy loyalty. A few years ago, Al-Jazira did an amazing giveaway — if you attended matches you could win a Ferrari. It received a lot of attention and attendances exploded that season.
“It was a nice project but when it finished, the fans were gone. The people didn’t come for the club, they came for the prizes. We want to avoid that — we want to build a new, loyal generation of supporters.”
Al-Hosani is demanding that clubs focus their efforts on engagement with supporters. He wants to see community initiatives and liaison with schools and neighborhoods — in order to create a greater sense 
of belonging.
The matchday experience, too, is a target for improvement. It has been lacking for some time for UAE football fans, who have grown accustomed to broken Wi-Fi and closed food and beverage outlets. The rebuilding and refurbishment of a number of stadiums ahead of next year’s Asian Cup in the UAE will be a welcome boost for supporters.
“The improved stadiums will help many clubs,” Al-Hosani explained. “But it’s not enough — we want them to build fan zones, F&B structures — anything that improves the experience of going to an AGL match for fans.
“This change is not easy as most clubs have never thought about it, but that is why we are providing workshops and education so they can understand how to engage 
with the fans and increase the attendances.”Even the act of purchasing a ticket is now significantly easier. It seems remarkable that just a year ago, the majority of UAE football supporters could only buy a ticket when they arrived at the stadium. The introduction of a new central online ticketing system, in English and Arabic, 
has created a more efficient mechanism that also opens up the AGL 
to a wider audience.
Attracting expats and tourists to games has long been regarded as the Holy Grail for the AGL. Almost 90 percent of the country’s population are non-UAE nationals, but in the 11 years since the Pro League Committee was formed it has failed to unlock the secret of how to get them to matches. More accessible tickets is the first step, according to Al-Hosani, who has been encouraging clubs to recognize the importance of diversifying their fanbase. “Reaching out to expats is of course vitally important. I’m not sure why we are so late to do this but based on my experience when I was a fan of the league, I think the initiatives weren’t consistent. Maybe they did one campaign and then stopped for two years before doing another one. “We are working on future promotional activities. We will go to beaches, malls, public gardens — we will do kids’ activities, entertainment, competitions — we want people to know the AGL. The key is to be patient and persistent.”
A desire for quick wins has long been an issue for both the league and its clubs, who are notoriously trigger-happy with their managers. Al-Hosani and his PLC team are working hard to change that mentality and have already made admirable inroads. “As any change anywhere in the world, it’s difficult,” Al-Hosani said. “People are afraid of the unknown, this is natural. There will be resistance but there is a growing understanding that these changes will benefit UAE football in the 
long term.”


Game on! Saudi national team accepts Pakistan’s Peshawar Zalmi's challenge to cricket friendly

Game on! Saudi national team accepts Pakistan’s Peshawar Zalmi's challenge to cricket friendly
Updated 10 April 2021

Game on! Saudi national team accepts Pakistan’s Peshawar Zalmi's challenge to cricket friendly

Game on! Saudi national team accepts Pakistan’s Peshawar Zalmi's challenge to cricket friendly
  • SACF, established in 2020, has lined up a series of major programs focused on promoting the game in the Kingdom
  • SACF chairman Prince Saud Bin Mishal Al-Saud revealed the game-changing plans for cricket in exclusive interview with Arab News

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s national cricket team has accepted the challenge by the Pakistan cricket franchise Peshawar Zalmi inviting them for a friendly game.

The owner of one of Pakistan’s most popular cricket franchises, Peshawar Zalmi, hinted last week of taking his team to Saudi Arabia for a friendly match, soon after news emerged that Arab News had been selected as the official media partner of the Saudi cricket team.

READ MORE

Arab News, Saudi Arabia’s leading English language daily, has been selected by the Saudi cricket federation to be the national team’s official media partner. Read more here.

Javed Afridi’s successful franchise is represented by cricketing legends like former West Indian skipper Daren Sammy, South African star batsman Hashim Amla, and Pakistan all rounders Wahab Riaz and Shoaib Malik, and others from the world’s biggest test playing teams.

“Best wishes to cricket KSA. How about Peshawar Zalmi VS KSA in Saudi,” Afridi wrote on Twitter.

Responding to it the Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation (SACF) told Arab News: “We thank Afridi for the wonderful gesture, good wishes to the Saudi national cricket team and appreciation. We look forward to a lot of cooperation with all great cricket playing countries, such as Pakistan.

“As far as invitation to play a friendly game is concerned, we accept the challenge and look forward to playing the game at a mutually agreed date and place, here in Saudi Arabia," said Nadeem Nadwi, General Manager, SACF.

SACF, established in 2020, has lined up a series of major programs focused on promoting the game in the Kingdom and things are set to change rapidly.

In an exclusive interview with Arab News last week, SACF chairman Prince Saud Bin Mishal Al-Saud revealed the game-changing plans for cricket, outlining a series of major initiatives that will increase participation at community, club, and international level.

 

Among those competitions is the National Cricket Championship, played across 11 cities and part of four programs that SACF signed with the Saudi Sports For All Federation. Launched in February 2021, it is to date the largest cricket tournament held in the history of Saudi Arabia.

Moreover, there will be a corporate cricket tournament launched in October and November, a cricket league for expatriate workers, and a social cricket program introduced in various cities. Throughout the year, SACF is planning to have 20,000 participants taking part in these programs.

The federation has signed several deals and MoUs with governmental, semi-governmental, and non-governmental entities setting out plans to raise awareness of the game, increase cricket facilities nationwide, and introduce the sport to Saudi youth through school programs.


Real Madrid beats Barcelona 2-1 to go top of Spanish league

Real Madrid beats Barcelona 2-1 to go top of Spanish league
Updated 11 April 2021

Real Madrid beats Barcelona 2-1 to go top of Spanish league

Real Madrid beats Barcelona 2-1 to go top of Spanish league
  • Barcelona, which had been unbeaten in 19 straight league games, stayed one point off the lead

MADRID: Real Madrid continued its impressive run on Saturday, going top of the Spanish league with a 2-1 win over Barcelona in what may have been Lionel Messi’s last league clásico.
The victory in pouring rain in the Spanish capital left Madrid tied on points with Atlético Madrid, which on Sunday can return to the top when it visits sixth-place Real Betis. Madrid is ahead of its city rival on the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Barcelona, which had been unbeaten in 19 straight league games, stayed one point off the lead.
Karim Benzema and Toni Kroos scored first-half goals to give Madrid its sixth straight win in all competitions. The defending league champions were coming off a win over Liverpool in the first leg of the quarterfinals of the Champions League on Tuesday.
“It was a very important victory for us,” Madrid defender Nacho Fernández said. “It’s always special to win a clásico, and even more when we are so close together at the top in the fight for the title. You could say today was a final, but there is still a lot left in the league.”
Barcelona got on the board in the second half with a goal by Óscar Mingueza. It nearly equalized with a shot from young substitute Ilaix Moriba that struck the crossbar in the final play of the match.
“We tried until the end but it wasn’t possible. We almost had it in that final play,” Barcelona’s Sergi Roberto said. “We depended on our own results had we won, but now we need to hope that our rivals stumble. We will keep fighting until the very end.”
This was the first time Madrid has taken the league lead since the early rounds of the competition, and it trailed Atlético by 11 points at one stage.
The result ended Barcelona’s six-match winning streak in the league. It had won nine away matches in a row in the competition.
The 33-year-old Messi, who reached seven straight clásicos without a goal, has his contract with Barcelona ending this season. The Argentina star expressed his desire to leave the Catalan club last year but had the request denied.
One of his best chances was with a corner kick that curled across the area and hit Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois’ far post in first-half stoppage time. Messi’s free kick in second-half stoppage time was easily stopped by Courtois.
It was an even start at the Alfredo Di Stéfano Stadium in Madrid’s training center, but the hosts opened the scoring in the 13th minute with Benzema’s superb flicked shot from close range after a low cross by Lucas Vázquez.
The French striker, who has scored 10 goals in his last nine matches, got in front of Barcelona defender Ronald Araújo and flicked the ball toward the net with his back foot. He hadn’t scored against Barcelona in nine consecutive clásicos.
The Catalan club complained of a foul by Vázquez on Messi just moments before the opening goal.
Kroos added to the lead in the 28th from a free kick following a foul on Vinícius Júnior, who was coming off an outstanding performance in Madrid’s 3-1 win over Liverpool. Kroos shot from just outside the area and the ball deflected on American defender Sergiño Dest before going into the net.
Madrid almost added to the lead in the 34th when Federico Valverde hit the post after a breakaway led by Vinícius Júnior, who also hit the post in the second half. That was after Barcelona pulled one back in the 60th with a shot from inside the area by Mingueza after a low cross by Jordi Alba.
Madrid played the final minutes a man down after Casemiro was sent off with a second yellow card.
The visitors complained about being denied a penalty in the final minutes, with Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman saying it was “a clear penalty.”
“I don't know why there is VAR in Spain,” he said.
Madrid got the win despite a depleted defense — with the absences of central defenders Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos. Barcelona was without the injured Gerard Piqué.
Right back Vázquez, who has been key for Madrid in recent games, had to be replaced due to an injury before halftime.
Barcelona’s next match is the Copa del Rey final against Athletic Bilbao on Saturday, while Madrid travels to England to play Liverpool again in the Champions League on Wednesday.


Alexander-Arnold ends Liverpool’s long wait for Anfield victory

Alexander-Arnold ends Liverpool’s long wait for Anfield victory
Updated 11 April 2021

Alexander-Arnold ends Liverpool’s long wait for Anfield victory

Alexander-Arnold ends Liverpool’s long wait for Anfield victory
  • 10-man Leeds stall runaway leaders Manchester City’s march with 2-1 victory

LONDON: Manchester City’s march to the Premier League title stalled on Saturday as 10-man Leeds beat the runaway leaders 2-1, while Liverpool climbed into fourth place after Trent Alexander-Arnold’s late strike sealed a 2-1 win against Aston Villa.

City are counting down to their third title in four seasons, but Stuart Dallas’s stoppage-time strike leaves them still needing 11 points from their last six games to clinch the crown.

Their first defeat in seven matches in all competitions came after Pep Guardiola made seven changes following their midweek Champions League quarterfinal first-leg win over Borussia Dortmund.

With Kevin De Bruyne on the bench at the Etihad Stadium, City were below their best against lively Leeds and now turn their attention to cup competitions next week.

They have a 2-1 lead to defend in the second leg at Dortmund on Wednesday before Saturday’s FA Cup semifinal against Chelsea at Wembley.

“We did not create enough for the forward. It is part of the game,” Guardiola said.

“When they defend in the way they were you have to stop them running and we did not do that. The best moment we had in the game we make a mistake behind and we tried but could not score.

“We are going to rest and prepare two days for the game in Dortmund and decide on how we are going to play.”

Liverpool are desperately trying to salvage their troubled campaign by qualifying for next season’s Champions League via a top-four finish. Beaten 3-1 by Real Madrid in the Champions League quarter-final first leg on Tuesday, Jurgen Klopp’s side knocked West Ham out of fourth place in the most dramatic fashion at Anfield.

Liverpool had lost their previous six home league matches, but Alexander-Arnold clinched their first success in front of the Kop since December as the Reds avenged their humiliating 7-2 defeat at Villa in October.

Villa striker Ollie Watkins scored a hat-trick in that rout and he was back on the scoresheet after 43 minutes.


5 talking points from Al-Ittihad’s win over Al-Hilal in Saudi Classico

5 talking points from Al-Ittihad’s win over Al-Hilal in Saudi Classico
Updated 10 April 2021

5 talking points from Al-Ittihad’s win over Al-Hilal in Saudi Classico

5 talking points from Al-Ittihad’s win over Al-Hilal in Saudi Classico
  • The win left the Jeddah club only three points behind the champions at the tip of the Saudi Pro League table

LONDON: On Friday evening in Jeddah, Al-Ittihad defeated Al-Hilal 2-0 in the Saudi Classico thanks to first-half goals from Abdulmohsen Fatallah and Saud Abdulhamid. The result means that Al-Hilal are still top of the Saudi Pro League with 48 points from 25 games, three ahead of Al-Shabab, who face Al-Batin on Saturday. But now, Al-Ittihad in third have also closed the gap to three points.

There was much more to it than that however and there are five things we learned about the match.

1. Al Ittihad have lit up the title race

If Al-Hilal had won in Jeddah, the title race would not have been over but it would have been a major step towards another championship.

Al-Ittihad would have been out of it and the victors would have moved six points clear and while Al-Shabab have a game in hand, fixtures are running out.

Now however, it is all up in the air. Whatever happens tomorrow with Al-Shabab at Al-Batin, there are just three points separating the top three.

Ittihad are well and truly in with a chance, especially after beating the top two teams in the league inside a month. 

Whatever happens from now until the end of the season, all neutrals should be grateful for this result as it means that there is going to be plenty of drama in the coming weeks. 

2. Fatallah a hero at both ends of the pitch

Whatever coach Fabio Carille may have said before the match, there were concerns among fans of Al-Ittihad about the absence of Ahmed Hegazi in the middle of defense.

The Egyptian international has had a stellar season since arriving in October and has played a major part in the club’s resurgence.

With his usual defensive partner Ziyad Al-Sahafi also absent, Al-Hilal’s forwards must have been rubbing their hands with glee especially when replacement Omar Hawsawi went off injured after just 11 minutes.

In came Abdulmohsen Fatallah to play only his second match of the season.

He not only helped to keep out the increasingly desperate Hilal attacks, but he opened the scoring with a powerful header.

Before the game, nobody would have suggested that the 26-year-old would be the hero of the Classico but he stepped up when he was needed, though goalkeeper Marcelo Grohe and the woodwork helped out.

3. Carille wins the ‘Battle of the Brazilians’

Brazil exports plenty of talent around the world but there was still talk in South America about the fact that the Saudi Classico featured coaches from the country.

This time, Fabio Carille won out over Rogerio Micale.

It was the perfect performance from Al-Ittihad who were aggressive in the first half and then counter-attacked intelligently after the break as Al-Hilal pushed forwards with increasing desperation.

It was striking how well Al-Ittihad were organized at the back but flexible in attack as was shown by the boss putting Fahad Al-Muwallad in a central role late in the game where his speed stretched the Hilal defense. 

The champions had the lion’s share of possession against the Tigers but were lacking in creativity when it mattered with Micale’s substitutions as predictable as much of the play.

Carille handled the absence of his star player, Hegazi, better than his opposite number managed the absence of captain Salem Al-Dawsari.

This was Micale’s first taste of this fixture and losing for the first time since 2016 will not have done his standing with the fans any good. 

4. Saud Abdulhamid meant his goal

The right-back does not score many, indeed had managed just one goal before Friday, but he produced a beauty at the end of the first half.

Picking up the ball just a yard outside the area, about halfway between the touchline and the right corner of the box, everyone waited for a cross.

Instead, he fired a shot into the near top corner, fooling Abdullah Al-Mayouf in the Hilal goal. He said after the game that this was no attempt at a cross.

“I saw there was space there and I went for it,” he told television. It was a special goal and will live long in the memory.

5. Al-Shabab need to handle the pressure

The team from Riyadh have had a highly impressive season and moved into first position at the halfway stage.

But just when the prize moved to within view, the form has faltered.

Just one point from the last three games has put doubts in the minds of fans.

Now though, Al-Shabab have a second chance and can move level on points with Al-Hilal with a win against struggling Al-Batin.

This opportunity can’t be wasted especially considering what happens next.

On May 7, the top two meet. Basically, if Al-Shabab win their next two games, they will be three points clear on the summit with four games left to go.


Brazilian fighters supreme on last day of Abu Dhabi jiu-jitsu championship

Brazilian fighters supreme on last day of Abu Dhabi jiu-jitsu championship
Updated 10 April 2021

Brazilian fighters supreme on last day of Abu Dhabi jiu-jitsu championship

Brazilian fighters supreme on last day of Abu Dhabi jiu-jitsu championship
  • South American nation’s brown- and black-belt professionals claim 35 medals

The 12th edition of the Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship (ADWPJJC) successfully wrapped on Friday night, with Brazilian fighters once again showing why they remain some of the finest on the planet.

Brown- and black-belt professionals from around the world took to the mats at Jiu-Jitsu Arena in the UAE capital, with men and women from the South American nation topping the country rankings with a total of 35 medals, including 16 gold, 11 silver and eight bronze.

Household names such as Beatriz Mesquita, Bianca Basilio, Israel Almeida, Isaque Braz and Gabrieli Pessanha were among those to shine for Brazil.

Mesquita put in a top performance to capture her sixth adult title, taking less than a minute to win with an armbar on opponent Lari Paes.

“Today’s victory is one of the most important achievements in my career as I’ve been training and competing for this moment. My training during the pandemic didn’t stop, and that was the main reason why I’ve captured the win again this year,” said Mesquita.

“Competing in a global championship against the best in the world in such unprecedented circumstances in a safe environment is a true privilege. I’d like to thank the ADPWJJC organizers for hosting such a successful international championship in these challenging times.”

Compatriot Diego Batista topped the ADWPJJC podium again with gold in the 62 kg black-belt division thanks to a 4-3 victory over Hiago George.

Batista, who won gold in the brown-belt 69 kg division at the 11th ADWPJJC, said: “Capturing the gold in my black-belt debut at the ADWJJC feels special. Great work by the ADWPJJC organizing committee to give jiu-jitsu athletes the opportunity to compete and practice the sport we love safely.”

The “Queen of the Mats” Passenha beat Yara Soares in a thrilling encounter to win gold again in the women’s 95 kg brown-black-belt division.

But Brazilian athletes did not have it all their own way as Adam Wardzinksi from Poland claimed his first gold, beating Brazil’s Renato Cardoso 6-4 in the 94 kg black-belt division.

“It feels great to get my first gold after two consecutive years of winning silver at the ADWPJJC. This is one of my all-time dreams coming true, and I can’t wait to come back and defend my belt in the 13th edition,” said Wardzinksi.

“I knew my opponent very well as we squared off many times in the past. I knew he’d be tough and we both had our strategic approach, and I managed to get the win at the end,” he added.

“For us athletes who live for this sport, the 12th edition of the championship offers us hope in the continuation of the championship in these challenging times.”

The 13th ADWPJJC will take place in Abu Dhabi’s Jiu-Jitsu Arena in November 2021.