Saudi Arabia to host major snooker event for first time

Saudi Arabia announced it will host a World Snooker Tour event for the first time in 2020 in Riyadh, as part of the 2020/21 World Snooker Tour calendar. (File/Reuters)
Updated 09 December 2019

Saudi Arabia to host major snooker event for first time

  • Saudi Arabia Snooker Masters will be held in Riyadh from October 4-10
  • The tournament will include all 128 Tour players

LONDON: Saudi Arabia has agreed a deal with World Snooker to host a ranking event for the first time after signing a 10-year deal with the sport’s governing body.
The Saudi Arabia Snooker Masters will be held in Riyadh from October 4-10 with total prize money of £2.5 million ($3.29 million) as part of the 2020-21 World Snooker Tour calendar.
Saudi Arabia’s General Sports Authority chairman Prince Abdulaziz Bin Turki said: “This partnership adds further to our hosting of a diverse range of international sports in Saudi Arabia.
“Having held motorsport and boxing events in recent months, and with tennis and equestrian events to follow, we are thrilled to add the Saudi Arabia Snooker Masters, which will see world-class snooker played in Saudi Arabia for the first time in 2020.”

He added that the GSA aims to provide opportunities for audiences in the Kingdom and the region to “see the world’s best,” with hopes to inspire and encourage more participation in the sport.
The tournament will include all 128 Tour players and the world’s top 32 will enter at the third-round stage, with four local players competing in the first round.
Prince Abdulaziz also said that as part of the agreement, they will work with one of the world’s leading sporting events company to host programs in schools and universities to encourage youth to play snooker. 
World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn said on Sunday that snooker has grown to such an extent that they are able to create “exceptional tournaments at this level,” adding that the calendar for the coming year is jam-packed.
“This is a giant leap forward for our sport. We have enjoyed tremendous global expansion over the past decade, particularly in Asia and Europe and we are thrilled to stage a new and momentous tournament in the Middle East,” 
Hearn added: “For the fans in Saudi Arabia, it is a wonderful opportunity to see the best players in the world competing for a huge title. We look forward to working with our partners on delivering a huge event.”
Jason Ferguson, chairman of the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association said that one of their biggest ambitions is to bring snooker to every corner of the planet.
“This is a step of huge significance. It gives us a firm footprint in the Middle East and we believe this will be the beginning of a boom for our sport in the region.”
Meanwhile, Carlo Boutagy, CEO of CBX, the official event promoter said the agreement between GSA and World Snooker is a great opportunity to bolster the popularity and awareness of snooker at a grass roots level in the Kingdom. 
In cooperation with Matchroom, a sport event promotions company founded by Hearn, CBX will work with schools and clubs throughout the Kingdom to develop snooker as a sport. 
“This competition provides the perfect motivational platform for aspiring snooker players throughout the Kingdom,” said Boutagy.
Saudi Arabia has been hosting major international sporting events as part of its Vision 2030, which aims to transform the Kingdom into a major tourist destination and economic hub.
Last month, the Kingdom launched the Diriyah Season, a month of sports which kicked off with the Formula E and the Diriyah Tennis Cup, featuring eight of the best men’s players on the planet.
It also included the Diriyah Equestrian Festival, an elite competition with Tokyo Olympics 2020 qualifying points on the line and the Clash of the Dunes, which saw Britain’s Anthony Joshua win the world boxing heavyweight titles against Andy Ruiz on Saturday.


‘Fight Island’ concept debuts in Abu Dhabi on Sunday

Updated 11 July 2020

‘Fight Island’ concept debuts in Abu Dhabi on Sunday

  • Plan to be unveiled on Sunday with the staging of the 13-fight UFC 251 event on Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island

DUBAI: When mixed martial arts supremo Dana White first floated his “Fight Island” concept, with its echoes of the Bruce Lee blockbuster “Enter the Dragon” where fighters were drawn into combat at a private getaway, eyebrows were raised.

“‘Fight Island’ is real. It’s a real thing,” said the Ultimate Fighting Championship boss when he announced the plan in April. “The infrastructure’s being built right now, and that’s really going to happen.”

White’s vision will be unveiled on Sunday with the staging of the 13-fight UFC 251 event on Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island.

The event will be headlined by a welterweight world title encounter between the Nigerian-American champion Kamaru Usman and Cuban-American challenger Jorge Masvidal.

It’s one of four “Fight Island” cards to be staged without an audience inside an arena on the resort and entertainment island throughout July, kicking off with three world title bouts and a title challenge eliminator.

Usman said during a virtual media event that he had been impressed by what he’d seen since arriving in the UAE on Thursday.

“I’m grateful for everything that’s been done,” said Usman, gunning for the second defense of his title. “All the precautions have been taken. After I go out there on Saturday and get my hand raised I’ll be glad to be heading home COVID-free.”

The UFC has made the move to Abu Dhabi from its Las Vegas base in an effort to isolate its fighters during the coronavirus pandemic.

Safety has been a major motivator, as has the promoter’s need to keep staging events — and collecting revenue — during a crisis that has shut down or forced massive overhauls to the staging of the world’s major sporting events.

Strict lockdown measures have been imposed on athletes, their entourages, officials, staff and media for the duration of their stay on Yas Island, on a site that has been completely sealed off until the event concludes on July 26.

Tests were taken before people arrived — initial headliner Gilbert Burns of Brazil failed, and stayed home, Masvidal’s coach Mike Brown suffered the same fate — and after landing there has been more testing, and 48 hours in-room quarantine.

“We were able to lock away with some mats and pads in our room and keep training as much as we could,” said Russian welterweight Muslim Salikhov, who fights Brazil’s Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos in Sunday’s preliminaries.

“The main thing everyone is saying is that we are here, and we are ready to fight because that’s what we do for a living.”

Abu Dhabi’s executive director of tourism and marketing, Ali Al-Shaiba, said protocols were stringent in the expansive “safe zone,” patrolled by police and expected to house around 2,000 people for the duration of the month-long event. Staff will be tested every 72 hours.