NBA star Lebron James: Free speech comes with a cost in Morey-China row

NBA star Lebron James: Free speech comes with a cost in Morey-China row
LeBron James has a lifetime endorsement deal worth tens of millions with Nike, which does big business in China. (AP)
Updated 15 October 2019

NBA star Lebron James: Free speech comes with a cost in Morey-China row

NBA star Lebron James: Free speech comes with a cost in Morey-China row
  • ‘Yes, we do have freedom of speech, but there can be a lot of negative that comes with that too’
  • NBA telecasts have been pulled from Chinese television in the aftermath of the dispute

LOS ANGELES: Basketball player LeBron James waded into the dispute between the NBA and China on Monday, saying he believes Daryl Morey went too far when he tried to exercise his right to free speech.
The Los Angeles Lakers star criticized the Houston Rockets GM, saying he was “misinformed” and needed to be educated after Morey tweeted his support for the Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters.
“I don’t want to get into a word or sentence feud with Daryl Morey. But I believe he wasn’t educated on the situation at hand and he spoke,” James said before the Lakers exhibition contest Monday against the Golden State Warriors.
“So many people could have been harmed not only financially but physically, emotionally and spiritually, so just be careful with what we tweet, and we say, and we do.
“Yes, we do have freedom of speech, but there can be a lot of negative that comes with that too.”
James’s Lakers and the Brooklyn Nets were thrust into the controversy when the clubs arrived in China last week to play two exhibition games on October 10 and October 12 amidst turmoil after Morey tweeted, “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.”
Morey’s tweet was in support of the protesters fighting a move by China that would allow extraditions from Hong Kong to mainland China. Human rights has long been an issue in China well before the former British colony returned to mainland control in 1997.
Hong Kong has been rocked since June by protests that were ignited by a now-scrapped plan to officially allow extraditions but snowballed into a movement calling for more democratic freedoms and police accountability.
James said Morey was thinking of himself when he made his comment.
“There are ramifications for the negative that can happen when not thinking about others, when you are only thinking about yourself,” he said.
James also has a lifetime endorsement deal worth tens of millions with Nike, which does big business in China. James has made about a dozen trips to China with Nike.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver stressed last week that he regrets Chinese NBA fans are upset but would not apologize for Morey’s tweet.
“I don’t come here, either as the commissioner of the NBA or as an American, to tell others how they should run their governments,” Silver said.
“We’re not apologizing for Daryl exercising his freedom of expression.”
As for having NBA telecasts pulled from Chinese television, Silver said, “It’s unfortunate, but if that’s the consequences of us adhering to our values, we still feel it’s critically important we adhere to those values.”


Game on: Saudi Arabia's Prince Abdullah bin Musaad buys football club No. 5

Game on: Saudi Arabia's Prince Abdullah bin Musaad buys football club No. 5
Updated 09 March 2021

Game on: Saudi Arabia's Prince Abdullah bin Musaad buys football club No. 5

Game on: Saudi Arabia's Prince Abdullah bin Musaad buys football club No. 5
  • Chateauroux prop up French second division, but Prince Abdullah bin Musaad predicts successful future

JEDDAH: A Saudi prince who owns four professional football clubs has splashed out nearly €3 million on a fifth.
Prince Abdullah bin Musaad is buying the French club Chateauroux, adding to his portfolio of Sheffield United in England’s Premier League, Beerschot in Belgium, India’s Kerala United and Al-Hilal United in the UAE.
“We have been interested in Chateauroux for some time, and negotiations have taken a long time,” Prince Abdullah said.
The prince is buying the club through his company, United World. Chief executive Abdallah Al-Ghamdi “saw the last game and reached an agreement with club officials and the board of directors,” the prince said.
French media have estimated that the deal is worth about €2.8 million, a bargain basement price in global football. “I think the amount is higher but I do not want to divulge it,” the prince said.
Chateauroux are currently propping up the French second division after only four wins from 28 games, but the prince is undaunted.
“The club’s position in the second division table is now very difficult, but I am optimistic about its future,” he said.
“When we buy a club, we have several objectives. To raise the level of the club, the facilities and the level of the team. The most important thing is to do it over time.
“I’m happy that we own clubs from three of the four countries that reached the semifinals of the last World Cup — England, Belgium and France.”
The prince is particularly delighted to be involved with a French club.
“When I invested in England and Belgium, I was happy. But for France, I have a special feeling because it’s a country that reminds me of childhood,” he said. “My memories are numerous and my brother Abdulrahman was born there.”


‘China Crisis’ is priceless lesson and opportunity for Saudi football

Riyadh and Jeddah, rather than Shanghai and Guangzhou, will have an increased opportunity to become Asia’s go-to destinations for big-name foreign players. (AFP/File Photos)
Riyadh and Jeddah, rather than Shanghai and Guangzhou, will have an increased opportunity to become Asia’s go-to destinations for big-name foreign players. (AFP/File Photos)
Updated 08 March 2021

‘China Crisis’ is priceless lesson and opportunity for Saudi football

Riyadh and Jeddah, rather than Shanghai and Guangzhou, will have an increased opportunity to become Asia’s go-to destinations for big-name foreign players. (AFP/File Photos)
  • As champions Jiangsu FC and others cease operations, Kingdom set to become go-to Asian football hub

LONDON: A leading Chinese football agent has warned that the financial issues facing the Chinese Super League serve as both an opportunity and a warning for Saudi Arabia.

His views come in the wake of seismic events that have rocked Chinese football and look set to have a ripple effect on the rest of the continent.

A series of mishaps, among them being Chinese champions Jiangsu FC ceasing operations last week, have for a while at least, removed the Middle Kingdom as one of the premier transfer destinations in the world. Riyadh and Jeddah, rather than Shanghai and Guangzhou, will have an increased opportunity to become Asia’s go-to destinations for big-name foreign players, but caution is needed.

“For a number of years, we were getting lots of inquiries from China to contact European clubs, and getting lots of interest from European agents to get their players into China,” a leading Chinese agent, who wished to remain anonymous, told Arab News. “Outside the big leagues of Europe, China was the place to go, but that has changed. We are already seeing attention switching to West Asia.”

Around a decade ago, Chinese president Xi Jinping made it clear to the world and the Chinese Football Association, as well to conglomerates and state-owned enterprises, that the underachievement of the country in the world game had to end. Within months, clubs in Guangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing were signing some of the biggest names in the sport.

In the short-term, China wanted to match the likes of Saudi Arabia and become an Asian powerhouse — The Green Falcons have been to five World Cups and won three Asian Cups, compared to one and none for China — but the longer-term ambition was a global one.

The transfer activity certainly reached world-beating levels during the winter transfer window of 2016-17, when China’s top tier spent more than any other. Oscar left Chelsea for Shanghai SIPG in December 2016 for around $80 million. In total, more than $470 million was spent, considerably more than the $300 million that left the bank accounts of English Premier League teams. Never had Asia seen such activity.

The sums spent helped bring the AFC Champions League to China for the first time ever, increased attendance to the number one spot in Asia and lifted the league’s profile to be one of the highest of any outside the traditional “Big Five” of Europe.

But ahead of the new season, headlines around the world are talking of a “China crisis.”

On March 1, Jiangsu FC ceased operating just three months after being crowned champions for the first time in their history. Owners Suning, who also control Inter Milan, have pulled the plug.

There are others. A year ago, Tianjin Tianhai went bankrupt, and at the moment, according to reports in the Chinese media, Tianjin Tigers are also close to folding. Over the past 12 months, 16 teams in the top three tiers in China have gone out of existence.

While Saudi Arabia has outperformed China in football, there are some similarities. The coronavirus pandemic meant that many Chinese clubs, already in debt, saw less revenue and were relying even more on cash injections from corporate owners who were also feeling the effects. Clubs in Saudi Arabia often struggle to be self-sustainable, and depend on owners putting hands in pockets.

The temptation to get out wallets may be hard to resist in the coming months. Already, the likes of Alex Teixeira, the Brazilian who helped Jiangsu to the title last season and is now a free agent, has been linked with moves to Saudi Arabia in the hope that clubs there can match the kind of salary he received in China. He would join stars such as Bafetimbi Gomis, Pity Martinez, Odion Ighalo and Andre Carillo, who bring talent and attention, but do not come cheap.

There have been examples of Saudi clubs overextending themselves. Al-Nassr have become embroiled in a dispute with players Maicon and Giuliano Victor de Paula, with FIFA getting involved and recently slapping the Riyadh club with a transfer ban that could last three windows. There have also been reports that Al-Ahli have been late in paying players this season.

“Now that China is not part of the conversation and won’t be for a while, Saudi Arabia will become the focus of more and more players and their agents, especially as there are some clubs and leagues in Europe that are struggling financially at the moment due to the pandemic situation,” the agent added.

“Teams may be able to sign some big talents, but China shows that you have to be careful. To see the champions go out of existence means that something is very wrong.”


Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur off to a winning start in Dubai

Ons Jabeur on her way to defeating Katerina Siniakova at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. (WTA Tour)
Ons Jabeur on her way to defeating Katerina Siniakova at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. (WTA Tour)
Updated 08 March 2021

Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur off to a winning start in Dubai

Ons Jabeur on her way to defeating Katerina Siniakova at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. (WTA Tour)
  • Teenage sensation Coco Gauff makes her mark at Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships

DUBAI: Ons Jabeur made a winning start at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Sunday with a comfortable 6-2 6-3 victory over Katerina Siniakova.

While the tournament is taking place without a live audiences, the win by the 26-year-old Tunisian, ranked 31 in the WTA rankings, will delight her growing fanbase in the Middle East.

Jabeur was joined in the second round by teenage sensation Coco Gauff, who defeated Ekaterina Alexandrova 7-6(3) 2-6 7-6(8) in a centre court thriller.

“I’m happy with the win today,” said Jabeur. “I’m playing good. I like the conditions here, so hopefully will continue this way. I put pressure on myself because I want to win so bad. I am trying to take it like easy, whatever happens. I’m just trying to take it one day at a time.”

Jabeur was untroubled by her opponent, who had reached the final of an ITF tournament in Dubai in December and contested the Australian Open doubles final last month. The Tunisian showed no sign of nerves as she deals with the expectations that come with her position as a leader of Arab women in sport.

“We have enjoyed some exciting contests on the first day of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, with many twists and turns,” said Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free. “We congratulate today’s winners and look forward to seeing how they progress in the days ahead.”

Gauff’s battle with Alexandrova stretched to two hours 41 minutes. Gruff led the opening set 4-1 but was taken to a tiebreak, Alexandrova dominated the second set and the outcome of the third set went down to the final ball. Gauff led 5-1 but again her opponent battled back, fighting off four match points to hold for 4-5 and then break and level at 5-5.

The set then went to another tiebreak, during which Alexandrova held two match points before Gauff finally closed out the contest on her sixth match point.

“There were times where we both could have thrown in the towel and given up,” said Gauff, who would love nothing more than to celebrate her 17th birthday by taking part in Saturday’s final. “It was a match you’re just happy to get through. To get all the bad swings and the bad misses out of the way and hopefully for the rest of the tournament I can play a lot better.”

Svetlana Kuznetsova was involved in another match which swung one way and then the other. She had to dig deep to overcome Chinese number one Qiang Wang 6-4 1-6 7-5, taking two hours 21 minutes to earn a second-round clash with top seed and two-time Dubai champion Elina Svitolina.

Kuznetsova first played at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships in 2003 when she won the doubles title, but she has lost no less than three singles finals and a remarkable four consecutive doubles finals.

Wang, who created headlines when she defeated Serena Williams in the 2020 Australian Open and is currently coached by former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash, made a positive start, holding off six break points as she built a 3-0 lead, only for the former world number two to sweep the next five games and go on to take the opening set.

Wang then dominated the second set, and in a tense final set broke to lead 5-4 and serve for victory. Kuznetsova, though, held off the threat and claimed the next three games.

In other first round matches, Barbora Krejcikova upset 16th seed Maria Sakkari 6-2 7-6(4), Veronika Kudermetova defeated Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 7-6(3) 6-2 and will next play 2019 Dubai champion and number six seed Belinda Bencic, and in a contest between two former finalists Alize Cornet defeated Daria Kasatkina 6-4 3-6 6-1 and will now face third seed Aryna Sabalenka. Anastasija Sevastova advanced when Bernarda Pera retired with Sevastova leading 6-0 5-3, and she will next play second seed and 2015 Dubai finalist Karolina Pliskova.

“We could not have wished for more exciting matches to get the tournament off to a fantastic start,” said tournament director Salah Tahlak. “The quality in so many of today’s matches was at times breathtaking, and there will no doubt be many more exciting battles in the days ahead.”

The WTA 1000 tournament continues until March 13 and will be followed between March 14 and 20 by the ATP event, headed by reigning US Open champion and world number four Dominic Thiem.


UAE coach Houriya Al-Taheri is shooting star of Emirati women’s football

UAE coach Houriya Al-Taheri is shooting star of Emirati women’s football
Updated 08 March 2021

UAE coach Houriya Al-Taheri is shooting star of Emirati women’s football

UAE coach Houriya Al-Taheri is shooting star of Emirati women’s football
  • Former goalkeeper overcoming barriers as first Arab female FIFA-certified coach

BANGALORE: On and off the football pitch Houriya Al-Taheri has been overcoming obstacles throughout her life.

“Football is a man’s sport” are words that, not surprisingly, the 34-year-old Emirati has had to contend with throughout her 15-year career as a goalkeeper and later, a football coach.

It is just as well that she ignored the doubters. Today she stands as the first Arab female FIFA-certified coach, and currently manages the UAE Women’s National Team.

From leading the UAE national team to victory in 2010 and 2011 at the West Asian Football Federation (WAFF) women’s championship and being selected by FIFA for women’s football regional coaching in Jordan, she has played an integral role in raising the visibility of women’s football in the UAE, an indeed the rest of the Middle East.

“There weren’t enough girls playing the sport, there weren’t any clubs for women, and the culture and community didn’t believe in or support women who wanted to play sports,” she told Arab News.

But with dedication, and her extensive knowledge of the sport, she was able to break down barriers in a male-dominated game.

At the age of 17, while playing football at a park with her brother, Al-Taheri was spotted by a coach who asked her to join one of the first women’s clubs in the UAE. Two years later, she joined her first official sports club, the Abu Dhabi Country Club.

Over the years, alongside playing the sport, she also worked on obtaining a coaching education license.

The former goalkeeper for the UAE women's national team rose through the ranks and ultimately led the UAE squad to victory over Iraq in 2017 for the country’s first win in a Women’s World Cup qualifier. And her efforts have had an increasingly positive impact at home. There are now eight clubs in the UAE Women’s Football League in addition to the under-14 and under-16 leagues to help promote young female talent.

In a 2019 video campaign with Nike, Al-Taheri said: “Helping the new generation, this is important. Giving opportunity, helping people grow. Let them believe in themselves.

“We are raising a generation of women who love football, who are the champions of the UAE and who one day, with a lot of hard work and dedication, will become champions of the world. The doors are open for anyone to chase this dream and we are entering it with vigor. We are here to stay,” she added.

Al-Taheri also hailed the role played by her family in supporting her success. “They are proud of what I have achieved, and this has strengthened their belief in women in sports,” she said.


Saudi women’s sport grows by leaps and bounds

Saudi women’s sport grows by leaps and bounds
Saudi cyclist Maya Jambi rides her bicycle past the Corniche Mosque in Jeddah on Saturday. The event was held to observe International Women’s Day. (AP)
Updated 08 March 2021

Saudi women’s sport grows by leaps and bounds

Saudi women’s sport grows by leaps and bounds
  • Our programs today are all about diversity and inclusion, says sports minister

DUBAI: With every passing week, more and more Saudi women are taking major strides across sporting arenas in the Kingdom.
Their progress, slow at first, has become a deluge.
It was only in 2017 that women were allowed inside stadiums to watch football. But November of last year saw the launch of the 24-team Women’s Football League, which was won by Challenge Riyadh.
The first Saudi female referee, Sham Al-Ghamdi, is rising through the ranks. There are Saudi fencers and show jumpers stepping up to compete at levels previously reserved only for men. Boxing is starting to attract Saudi women into the ring. In motorsports there are the likes of rally driver Dania Akeel pushing boundaries. And only last week, during the Formula E season opener at Diriyah, the first Saudi motorsports woman driver, Reema Juffali, announced that she had signed for Douglas Motorsport in the BRDC British F3 Championship.
These are not cosmetic, or isolated, changes, but ones opening doors for the next generation of Saudi female athletes. It is encouraging, as we celebrate International Women’s Day, that genuine progress is being made at grass-roots level upward, and will only increase in the coming weeks, months and years.
Just as important is what is taking place at the highest levels of sporting institutions in Saudi Arabia. Female representation at sporting federations and inside boardrooms has blossomed in line with Vision 2030, slowly banishing outdated notions of women’s place in sports.
“Any change will face some resistance, whether it’s women participating in sports or others,” Saudi Sports Minister Prince Abdul Aziz Turki Al-Faisal said in a recent interview with Arab News. “Our programs today with the Ministry of Sports are all about diversity and inclusion and we had to make sure that everyone is involved in all of our programs. To shed light about certain things and how this has evolved toward positive things, in 2015 we had zero national female teams. Today, we have 23 national teams that are participating in the name of the country.”
“We had 32 federations in 2017, today we have 64 federations; 38 of them have female board members that represent female sports within these federations,” he said. “There’s a lot of changes that have happened within the ecosystem of sports.”
The minister drew attention to the period of time that has seen these changes and said that this had to go hand-in-hand with societal and cultural awakening.

HIGHLIGHTS

• It was only in 2017 that women were allowed inside stadiums to watch football.

• November of last year saw the launch of the 24-team Women’s Football League, which was won by Challenge Riyadh.

• The first Saudi female referee, Sham Al-Ghamdi, is rising through the ranks.

“These things were unheard of in the past and now they are happening and they are finding support from the players and their families,” Prince Abdul Aziz said.
“Things are changing, and things are changing to the positive, and we have to make sure that they change in the right way with the right momentum to make sure that we put the right steps in and for it to be sustainable for the future. We don’t want to do one thing today and regret doing it in the next two or three years.”
To avoid such potential missteps, measures have been taken to ensure the right female representation has been put in place across the Kingdom in recent years.
One of the most prominent has been the appointment of Shaima Saleh Al-Husseini as the managing director of the Saudi Sports for All Federation (SFA) in March 2019. The work that she oversaw in 2020 has proved monumental.
During the lockdowns of 2020, as the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic spread throughout the world, the SFA played a major part in maintaining physical and mental well-being among the homebound Saudi population.
The digital national health and wellness campaign, Baytak Nadeek (Your Home, Your Gym) saw 3.8 million Saudis join in a matter of weeks, while other initiatives such as the Women’s Fitness Festival attracted thousands of participants through social media channels. The latter was staged as part of the SFA’s focus on increasing health and wellness across all segments of Saudi society through education, events, activations and public awareness campaigns.
Crowning a challenging year was the launch of the Women’s Football League (WFL) across Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam.
“Empowering women comes through positive and proactive programs like the WFL that have been conceptualized to continue to have a lasting impact on health, fitness and wellbeing,” Al-Husseini said. “The SFA, committed to putting women at the forefront of our mission to grow Saudi Arabia’s healthy and active community, continues to engage public and private-sector stakeholders to realize this aim together.”
Such tangible achievements in the field of women’s empowerment stand in stark contrast to some of the scandals taking place elsewhere.
Recent weeks have seen calls for the resignation of Yoshiro Mori, the head of the Tokyo Olympics organizing committee, after he made derogatory remarks about women, saying that they talked too much and that meetings with female board directors would “take a lot of time.”
Such words would be unacceptable in Saudi Arabia today.
Acclaim for the fundamental work being undertaken to include women in sports from grass roots level to boardroom level may have been slow in coming from abroad.
Inside Saudi Arabia, however, the role women are playing is there for all to see and appreciate.