Saudi Arabia’s Diriyah E-Prix: A ‘fantastic racetrack with the biggest hospitality’

Saudi Arabia’s Diriyah E-Prix: A ‘fantastic racetrack with the biggest hospitality’
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Mark Webber hopes the E-Prix will inspire a new generation of racers. (Supplied)
Saudi Arabia’s Diriyah E-Prix: A ‘fantastic racetrack with the biggest hospitality’
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Mark Webber hopes the E-Prix will inspire a new generation of racers. (Supplied)
Saudi Arabia’s Diriyah E-Prix: A ‘fantastic racetrack with the biggest hospitality’
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Mark Webber hopes the E-Prix will inspire a new generation of racers. (Supplied)
Updated 22 November 2019

Saudi Arabia’s Diriyah E-Prix: A ‘fantastic racetrack with the biggest hospitality’

Saudi Arabia’s Diriyah E-Prix: A ‘fantastic racetrack with the biggest hospitality’
  • Partnership between ABB FIA Formula E Championship and Kingdom wins praise from French driver Jean-Eric Vergne
  • Saudis Fahad Algosaibi, Reema Juffali and Aseel Al-Hamad among those racing in Diryah E-Prix 2019

RIYADH: Reigning Formula E champion Jean-Eric Vergne has lauded the partnership between the electric racing championship and Saudi Arabia in the lead-up to the weekend’s double-header Diriyah E-Prix.

Like last year, this weekend’s race at the UNESCO World Heritage site in Riyadh kicks off the ABB FIA Formula E Championship and Vergne is looking to complete a historic hat-trick this season.

The Frenchman made electric racing history after becoming the first back-to-back champion in Formula E following his title winning campaigns in 2017/18 and last year’s 2018/2019 season, which kicked off with the inaugural Diriyah E-Prix — hailed as a watershed moment in the Kingdom.

In comments ahead of this weekend’s action, Vergne was full of praise for what has been achieved in the Kingdom.

“I think what Formula E and Saudi Arabia has done is more than just create a fantastic racetrack with the biggest hospitality on top of a very nice layout. Formula E is written in golden letters in the history of the country.

“When you speak to everybody here, they tell you Formula E was at the beginning of a new era for them. I was having dinner with friends who are locals and they said ‘we never expected to see that quickly, they’ve done a fantastic job and it is very much liked by the population.’

“When the kids grow up they will know Formula E was the key to opening up the country and we can all feel proud to be part of it.”

Saudi drivers Fahad Algosaibi — who will compete in the Jaguar I-PACE eTROPHY support race to the Diriyah E-Prix — and Reema Juffali, racing in the same event and the first woman from the Kingdom to race in Saudi Arabia, agree with Vergne’s assessment.

 

“Diriyah is a place full of history and driving electric cars which symbolizes the future,” said Algosaibi.

“I think in so many ways this race symbolizes the trajectory of where Saudi Arabia wants to go in the future. I think we are striving to be a society that is open, it is easy for anyone to be involved.

“I think in Saudi Arabia now we have so much to offer. The Saudi Motorsport Federations has a lot of plans on how to grow the sport. I’ve heard rumours of Formula One but there’s also a lot of focus on karting, which is essential as that is the grassroots level.”

Juffali told Arab News: “For me, more than anything, it’s about the opportunity. To be able to do it around home fans and for people to see me in the car for the first time, it’s amazing.

“The fact that I’m here now racing at home in a professional manner is something that I didn’t dream of.”

 

The importance of the Formula E event to the Kingdom was echoed by another Saudi driver Aseel Al-Hamad, the first female member on the board of the Saudi Arabia Motor Federation, who spoke to Arab News after driving the new all-electric Porsche Taycan from Dubai to Riyadh with former Formula One driver Mark Webber.

“It’s very, very important because in past years, motorsport wasn’t that popular, maybe most of the people used to watch football,” she said.

“But today when we have such international motorsport events, so many people get closer to the sport and understand the rules. Maybe this young generation, when they go to the race, attend the race, they might be inspired and probably consider motorsport as a career.”

Webber, her co-driver for the epic trip in Porsche’s most powerful electric model and nine-time Formula One Grand Prix winner, told Arab News that he is excited, confident and optimistic about the race in Diriyah.

The Australian, who is also an International Automobile Federation World Endurance Champion and a Porsche ambassador, said that it is an exciting time for Porsche to enter a new championship and that Formula E is a mature competition.

“It’s established and it’s going all around the world racing and taking races to the people. So it’s really under their nose to watch what formula E has to offer,” he said.

Webber added that the Porsche team is open to the fact that Formula E is going to be a tough championship for them to compete in.

“We know we’ve got some top rivals. Porsche absolutely loves to come in with their eyes open, respectful of the opposition.”

Samer Issa-El-Khoury is the man who oversaw the construction of the Diriyah Circuit with only three weeks’ time to deliver the venue.

“I have been following and attending every Formula E race around the planet in order to bring the best features and improvement to the Diriyah E-Prix,” said Issa-El-Khoury, an engineer by trade and managing partner of CBX, a sports promotion company with exclusive rights for Formula E in the Middle East.

“From checking the pit structure in New York to the track asphalt in Berlin, hospitality structure in Zurich and fan-user experience in Hong Kong, we wanted to incorporate the finest elements in order to make this race a truly memorable doubleheader for the 2019/2020 ABB season.”

Explaining how the Diriyah E-Prix stands out from other circuits, Issa-El-Khoury said: “The beautiful scenery, with Diriyah being not just a UNESCO World Heritage site but also the birthplace of Saudi Arabia  — there is massive significance in this.

“What is unique as well is the architecture and design of the Swiss-made and engineered Royal Cube structure which is installed to cater for the VVIP guests, underneath which the cars race.”

Issa-El-Khoury says electric racing represents the future of motorsports and also emphasizes sustainability and clean energy. From that standpoint, having a a Formula E race in Diriyah “is 100 percent in line with Saudi Arabia's plan and Vision 2030" to wean itself off oil and to move to the forefront of “sustainable energy and carbon neutrality,” he said.

“This is a significant message to the world because the Vision’s success will most definitely have global reverberations.”

Diriyah E-Prix 2019 is part of the Diriyah Season, a month of sports and entertainment, with both days’ racing followed by concerts featuring artists such as Imagine Dragons and Canadian Lebanese singer Massari.

Tickets for all Diriyah Season events, concerts and entertainment will be available at www.diriyahseason.sa

News and announcements related to Diriyah Season can be followed on the official social media pages on Twitter and Instagram @diriyahseason


Saudi driver Al-Rajhi back behind the wheel at Andalucia Rally

Saudi driver Al-Rajhi back behind the wheel at Andalucia Rally
Updated 11 May 2021

Saudi driver Al-Rajhi back behind the wheel at Andalucia Rally

Saudi driver Al-Rajhi back behind the wheel at Andalucia Rally
  • Fully recovered from a crash last March, Al-Rajhi is back and will be joined by co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz
  • Their itinerary includes a timed super special race over eight kilometers on Wednesday before the four-stage, off-road odyssey with a total distance of 1,473 km

The first round of the 2021 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies starts on Wednesday with the Andalucia Rally and Saudi driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi of the Yazeed Racing team has returned from a neck injury he suffered at the Sharqiya Baja Rally last March.

While Al-Rajhi’s medical team has given him the green light to return to racing after a full year of recovery, co-driver Michael Orr, who suffered injuries in the same accident, is not expected back until the Kazakhstan Rally in June.

So Al-Rajhi will get back behind the wheel alongside German navigator Dirk von Zitzewitz for the Andalucia Rally, which runs through Sunday. Their Toyota Hilux is powered by the Belgian Overdrive Team.

The Saudi motorsport star, who is participating in the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies for the eighth year in a row, is grateful for his recovery from a race touched by tragedy.

“Accidents are part of racing and drivers cannot predict them so we are very lucky that we both walked away,” Al-Rajhi said. 

“I wish a speedy recovery for my colleague and navigator, Michael, who cannot participate with me because he has to complete his treatment sessions, but I expect him to return in the next rally.”

At the Andalusia Rally, Al-Rajhi and von Zitzewitz have an itinerary that includes a timed super special race over eight kilometers on Wednesday before the four-stage, off-road odyssey with a total distance of 1,473 km.

“The time I was recovering gave me a short break to recharge all my mental and physical strength for a new season of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies,” Al-Rajhi said. “I am really excited to take up the challenge behind the wheel again.”

As a pair, Al-Rajhi and von Zitzewitz have achieved some strong results in several cross-country rallies since 2019.

“Dirk is back on board with me and we had a great collaboration the last time we were together,” Al-Rajhi said. “So we are looking forward to winning this rally.”

Al-Rajhi and von Zitzewitz won two stages on home soil at the Dakar Rally in January.

“I am very excited to be back alongside Yazeed on the Toyota Hilux,” von Zitzewitz said. 

“I am looking forward to a very intense and challenging race, as the competition will be strong at the Andalucía Rally. I am happy and looking forward to a great race.”


Joshua set to fight Fury in Saudi Arabia in August, says promoter Eddie Hearn

The all-British fight between Anthony Joshua (L) and Tyson Fury for the undisputed world heavyweight title will take place in Saudi Arabia, according to promoter Eddie Hearn. (AFP/File Photos)
The all-British fight between Anthony Joshua (L) and Tyson Fury for the undisputed world heavyweight title will take place in Saudi Arabia, according to promoter Eddie Hearn. (AFP/File Photos)
Updated 11 May 2021

Joshua set to fight Fury in Saudi Arabia in August, says promoter Eddie Hearn

The all-British fight between Anthony Joshua (L) and Tyson Fury for the undisputed world heavyweight title will take place in Saudi Arabia, according to promoter Eddie Hearn. (AFP/File Photos)
  • Hearn, who represents Joshua, said the fight is likely to take place on Aug. 7 or Aug. 14

LONDON: The all-British fight between Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury for the undisputed world heavyweight title will take place in Saudi Arabia, promoter Eddie Hearn said on Tuesday.

Hearn, who represents Joshua, said the fight is likely to take place on Aug. 7 or Aug. 14. He said Aug. 14 is his preferred date because the Olympic Games in Tokyo will have finished, making the Joshua-Fury fight a bigger “global spectacle.”

“It’s a very bad secret that the fight is happening in Saudi Arabia,” Hearn told British broadcaster Sky Sports. “To be honest with you, I don’t mind giving you that information.”

Fury’s US promoter, Bob Arum, has previously said Saudi Arabia would be the location of the fight.

Hearn has yet to respond to AP requests to confirm the details of the fight.

READ MORE

On a rainy night in Diriyah in 2019, Anthony Joshua regained his world heavyweight titles after a unanimous points decision from the judges over Andy Ruiz Jr in an epic night of boxing in Saudi Arabia. Read how it happened here.

It would be Joshua’s second fight in the kingdom. He reclaimed his WBA, IBF and WBO belts from Andy Ruiz there in December 2019.

Joshua’s only fight since saw him retain his titles by knocking out Kubrat Pulev in December.

Fury hasn’t fought since beating Deontay Wilder in February last year to capture the WBC title.

Fury and Joshua have called each other out over Twitter over the last 24 hours, both urging the other to finalize terms for the fight.

Hearn said the “deal is done” but there was frustration on both sides that the fight had not been officially announced.

“From our perspective and AJ’s perspective, we’re ready to go,” he said. “From Tyson Fury’s perspective, they’ve got a couple of lawyers across it from their point.

“We have to nail this,” Hearn added, “and I’m not going to stop until I nail it, and everyone has just got to move forward collectively. We’re ready to go from our side. We’re not far away from their side and it is inevitable.”


Finland FA partners with Nike to donate hijabs to all female footballers in the country

Jerseys, shorts and socks are often given to players by their clubs, but not hijabs, and this can deter some players from taking part, the Finnish FA said. (Supplied/Finland FA/palloliitto.fi)
Jerseys, shorts and socks are often given to players by their clubs, but not hijabs, and this can deter some players from taking part, the Finnish FA said. (Supplied/Finland FA/palloliitto.fi)
Updated 11 May 2021

Finland FA partners with Nike to donate hijabs to all female footballers in the country

Jerseys, shorts and socks are often given to players by their clubs, but not hijabs, and this can deter some players from taking part, the Finnish FA said. (Supplied/Finland FA/palloliitto.fi)
  • The move marks 50 years of organized women’s football in Finland

LONDON: The Football Association (FA) of Finland has pledged to give sports hijabs to every female footballer in the country who wishes to wear one while playing.

Heidi Pihlaja, head of football development at the association, said the initiative is intended to promote more equality in the sport and marks 50 years of organized women’s football in Finland.

The move comes in cooperation with the country’s top female league, the Subway National League, and sportswear giant Nike, which will give its Nike Pro sports hijabs to girls and women who require one as part of their kit.

Jerseys, shorts and socks are often given to players by their clubs, but not hijabs, and this can deter some players from taking part, a Finnish FA statement said.

“We are constantly working to ensure that sports belongs to everyone, regardless of the player’s starting point,” Pihlaja said. “Finland is becoming increasingly diverse, and we want to take better account of different needs when girls become part of the football family. The game is open to everyone. 

“We hope that we, in leading by example, encourage other sports and football associations to join us in promoting equality and equity in sports,” she added.

Sara Salmani, one of Finland’s most experienced diversity and inclusion specialists, also said the move was key to combatting discrimination, in particular Islamophobia, and taking a stand on a set of values the Finnish FA wished to promote.

“Over the past month, the use of the hijab and its ban have made headlines around the world, showing that Islamophobia is still prevalent in the world today,” she said. “It is great that Finland is leading the way, showing that diversity belongs not only in sports but also in everyday life. 

“The donation of sports hijabs is a testament to the fact that the National League really stands behind its values and continues its active work against racism,” Salmani added.

“We share the same values with the National League, and we could not be prouder of the way they are taking sports toward the future. Sports has the power to make the world a better place, and our vision is to make sports a part of everyday life,” Nike’s David Nordbeck said.


Dubai teen-led tennis initiative raises awareness for autism 

Dubai teen-led tennis initiative raises awareness for autism 
Updated 11 May 2021

Dubai teen-led tennis initiative raises awareness for autism 

Dubai teen-led tennis initiative raises awareness for autism 
  • Two-week tournament saw a 32-draw men’s competition and a unisex under-14’s doubles contest
  • The initiative, called ACE FOR GOOD, was set up by high school student Hussein Nada

DUBAI: A tennis initiative set up by a Dubai teen has garnered support for Autism Awareness Month.

The initiative, called ACE FOR GOOD, was set up by high school student Hussein Nada in order to bring together tennis lovers to play in support of a good cause.

The initiative comprised of a tournament organized by Rackets Academy and 17-year-old Hussein.

“I decided to create ACE FOR GOOD’which will allow tennis players to give back to the community through supporting a charitable cause,” she told Arab News. “ACE FOR GOOD’s 2021 Dubai tournament perfectly (suited) Autism Awareness Month, (as did) the willingness of the tennis community to support and … make a difference.”

The two-week tournament saw a 32-draw men’s competition and a unisex under-14’s doubles contest.

It was backed by several sponsors including Brand for Less (BFL) Group, Daoud Group, Loca restaurants, Head, Marina Pharmacy Group and the Flower Co.

“BFL Group is so proud of this sponsorship, as we always strive to work for philanthropic causes, since this reflects our values. Nevertheless, sports and fitness-related activities always get our support as we believe in their key role in maintaining our mental health and wellbeing,” Yasser Beydoun, co-founder and managing partner of BFL Group, said.

“We salute Hussein for his initiative and efforts, which made us so excited to take this sponsorship opportunity and support him in achieving this great cause. He showed us that age is never a barrier for doing good; we can all do something good for the community as long as we believe in the cause and in our abilities,” Beydoun added.

As a result of the positive feedback received from players, sponsors, and the tennis community, ACE FOR GOOD is now set to become an annual event in Dubai, with plans also in the works to take it abroad, with a tournament set to take place in Egypt in August.


Al-Hilal’s new signing Marega has big shoes to fill to replace club legend Gomis

Al-Hilal’s new signing Marega has big shoes to fill to replace club legend Gomis
Updated 10 May 2021

Al-Hilal’s new signing Marega has big shoes to fill to replace club legend Gomis

Al-Hilal’s new signing Marega has big shoes to fill to replace club legend Gomis
  • The Malian striker will join up with the Riyadh club at the start of next season

LONDON: Al-Hilal may go through coaches at a rapid rate but when it comes to recruiting strikers, the Saudi Arabian giants have a far-sighted policy in place. No sooner had Bafetimbi Gomis become the fastest foreign player to score 100 goals for the club, it was announced that a new striker and a potential replacement was on his way to Riyadh. 

Moussa Marega was last seen scoring in the Portuguese league on April 22 to keep FC Porto’s title hopes alive and, from next season, the 30 year old will be an Al-Hilal player. As the French-born Mali international is out of contract at the end of the Primera Liga season and available on a free transfer, it marks a good bit of business from Al-Hilal, who will pay a reported 5 million euros ($6 million) a year over a three-year contract.

“In 1991, I was born in the French city of Les Ulis and in the same year, Al-Hilal won their first continental title,” Marega said as he was unveiled by the three-time Asian champions.

“These two stories continue to excite and they crossed again in 2020 when Al-Hilal won a hat-trick (of trophies) in Saudi Arabia and I did the same in Portugal,” he added, referring to his part in Porto’s triumph in the Portuguese League, Cup and Super Cup. “And now in 2021, my next destination is Saudi Arabia.”

Marega scored 52 league goals in his four seasons with Porto, and a further 10 in domestic cups. He also managed six goals in the 2018-19 UEFA Champions League as he became the joint-third highest scorer that year alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and Sergio Aguero.

He was welcomed to Riyadh by Gomis, who wrote on Twitter: “Welcome to (the) Al-Hilal family my brother.”

Marega’s arrival is likely to herald the end of Gomis’ time in Riyadh. The French forward has been one of the most successful foreign imports in the history of Saudi Arabian football. His 100th goal on Friday, one of two he scored in the 5-1 win against second placed Al-Shabab, that sent the defending champions three points clear with four games to play, came in only his 126th appearance for the club. Sixty-eight of those goals came in the league, eight in the King’s Cup, 17 in Asia — he was top scorer as Al-Hilal won the tournament in 2019 — five in the Arab Championship and two in the Club World Cup.

Gomis turns 36 in August and the arrival of Marega means speculation the former Lyon and Swansea star will return to Europe will intensify. When he does leave, the striker has said that he wishes to do so as a hero of Al-Hilal, though he refuses to comment specifically on a date.

“One day I will definitely leave but I want to leave when we have won the title,” Gomis said. “I have won many titles and had many historical achievements.”

Gomis helped Al-Hilal to the Saudi title last year and the AFC Champions League the year before and wants more prizes before he departs.

“This will be the best end for me. I would like history to remember that I was one of the leading goalscorers at Al-Hilal.

“It is my duty to give everything to the team and the fans, I know they love me personally so I feel a great responsibility towards them. That is why against Al-Shabab, I tried to do everything I could, both in attack and defence, for the team and especially for those fans,” he added.

The two goals Gomis netted against Al-Shabab were not just typical strikes from the star — and not only meant Al-Hilal are in touching distance of a successive title — but also meant Gomis now has 20 for the season, four more than Abha’s Carlos Strandberg, and is top of the goalscoring charts.

“The game against Al-Shabab is not the most important this season, it is all about the title and success for Al-Hilal but it is true that winning here brings us closer to the title,” he said. “It is something very special and I am delighted to achieve it, but the most important thing is that the team wins.” 

Regardless of how long he has left with Al-Hilal, it is certain that Gomis will get his wish and leave a hero, and if it is in the coming weeks, it is increasingly likely that he will leave as a champion.