Top international horse-riding judge marvels at ‘breathtaking’ Saudi venue for historic Diriyah Equestrian Festival

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International Federation for Equestrian Sports (FEI) judge Valeria Nicoli said she was left “speechless” on seeing Al-Duhami Farm in Saudi Arabia - the location for Diriyah Equestrian Festival. (Supplied)
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International Federation for Equestrian Sports (FEI) judge Valeria Nicoli said she was left “speechless” on seeing Al-Duhami Farm in Saudi Arabia - the location for Diriyah Equestrian Festival. (Supplied)
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International Federation for Equestrian Sports (FEI) judge Valeria Nicoli said she was left “speechless” on seeing Al-Duhami Farm in Saudi Arabia - the location for Diriyah Equestrian Festival. (Supplied)
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Updated 12 December 2019

Top international horse-riding judge marvels at ‘breathtaking’ Saudi venue for historic Diriyah Equestrian Festival

  • Valeria Nicoli says Al-Duhami Farm arena is ‘perfect’ for Kingdom’s first-ever hosting of major FEI-sanctioned event
  • An estimated 1,500 visitors are expected to attend and enjoy Saudi Arabia’s famous hospitality

RIYADH: One of international horse riding’s top officials has described as “breathtaking” the Saudi venue for this weekend’s historic Diriyah Equestrian Festival.

International Federation for Equestrian Sports (FEI) judge Valeria Nicoli said she was left “speechless” on seeing Al-Duhami Farm – the world-class equestrian arena built into the side of a mountain by Saudi Olympic legend Ramzy Al-Duhami and his wife Sara Baban.

Nicoli has been on site since last week, helping the facility ready itself for the opening weekend of the competition, which runs this weekend and next, starting Thursday.

It is the Italian’s first visit to the country, ahead of what is the Kingdom’s first-ever hosting of an international, FEI-sanctioned event, meaning riders taking part in the Diriyah Equestrian Festival will be competing for qualifying points for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

In line with that, the event has attracted champions from around the world to compete across the six days of competition.

Big names representing Saudi Arabia include Abdullah Al-Sharbatly, who won a gold medal at the Asian Games in both 2006 and 2010,  Abdel Rahman Al-Rajhi, who competed in the World Cup finals last year and won a silver medal during the 2014 Asian Games, 2018 winner Khaled Al-Mobty, and bronze Olympic medalist and festival host Al-Duhami.

Nicoli said the athletes could not be coming together to compete in a finer arena. “First arriving at Al-Duhami Farm I was left speechless! It is one of the most breathtaking locations I’ve ever attended for a competition, with the facilities all genuinely world class. It will be an incredible place to ride and all the competitors will love it.

“As a FEI official I travel the world watching elite athletes compete in every corner of the globe, and in many of its most famous cities. This unbelievable architectural achievement that Ramzy and Sara have carved quite literally into the side of a rock mountain here at Al-Duhami Farm, will most definitely be remembered by the hundreds of riders and fans coming to enjoy the next two weekends of the Diriyah Equestrian Festival,” she added.

“For the riders, they will love the stable set-up, all-round accommodation and Al-Duhami’s two wonderful arenas.

“This place was a long-term dream for Ramzy and Sara and being here you really discover how much of a labor of love it was. You can feel that throughout, and really appreciate it in the quality of its facilities.

“Spectators will love the atmosphere created by the arena’s backing wall, which allows it to feel both incredibly grand yet intimate at the same time. It’s the perfect venue for world-class equestrian.”

Asked what made an equestrian arena feel special, the sport’s governing-body official said: “From a riding point of view the arena needs to have a quality sand base to allow for the best possible footing conditions. Without that it can be hard for the horses to establish true confidence in the ground and perform at their peak.

“With the right surface – which Al-Duhami Farm prides itself on – the level of riding will be elevated, and in turn the performance as great as can be, which the crowd will feed off.”

With Olympic and World Cup qualification points up for grabs, the Diriyah Equestrian Festival will make history for both the sport and the Kingdom.

It will, however, break even more ground and continue to pave the way for future Saudi athletes in other ways, as the festival will welcome women to compete alongside their male counterparts, both inside and outside of the arena, for the first time.

“To be playing a part in such an occasion is a really proud moment for me, both from a sporting and non-sporting point of view,” added Nicoli. “The passion for equestrian here is so strong, so for men and women to be able to compete and push the standards of horse-riding in the Kingdom higher than ever together is something to get excited about.

“Equestrian, being a sport of great tradition, is a great way of illustrating Saudi Arabia’s commitment to modernity, while keeping its proud heritage.”

The Diriyah Equestrian Festival will welcome an estimated 120 riders, 150 grooms, 50 officials, 300 companions and trainers and 150 crew members.

An estimated 1,500 visitors are expected to attend and enjoy Saudi Arabia’s famous hospitality with the offering of 15 food trucks catering to international cuisines, 10 shops and game and federation exhibitors.


Golf Saudi strikes partnership with the Club Managers Association of Europe

Updated 30 November 2020

Golf Saudi strikes partnership with the Club Managers Association of Europe

  • Educational program will be tailored to support Saudis’ career pathway in and through golf

RIYADH: Golf Saudi and the Club Managers Association of Europe (CMAE) have signed an ambitious new partnership to work together to roll out a certified Arabic language educational program. This is the first of its kind, aimed at encouraging Saudi nationals to pursue a career in golf.

CMAE will set up an education platform in Saudi Arabia, drawing on its industry-renowned approach, to assist Golf Saudi in developing the domestic golf talent pool and ultimately creating new Saudi national certified club managers.

The association is a nonprofit making professional body with members involved in the management of sports clubs, health and fitness clubs and leisure, city and dining clubs in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.

Commenting on the partnership, CMAE’s director of education, Torbjörn Johansson, said: “Golf Saudi’s pursuit of creating a progressive domestic golf market is asking some big questions of the industry and leading organizations. The domestic plans to not only train up but also equip aspiring talent are a major step and CMAE is proud to be a partner and on-hand to provide the tools and analytic expertise.” 

The CEO of Golf Saudi, Majed Al-Sorour, said: “Our partnership with CMAE is incredibly important for Golf Saudi, but also for the golf industry at large. This is only possible if we are able to upskill our domestic workforce. Golf is good for business and can provide a direct boost to the Kingdom’s GDP, as well as providing lucrative jobs and creating new enterprise. These are exciting times for the golf industry in Saudi Arabia and this agreement with the CMAE helps us to develop a world-class training program that will support young Saudi adults in unlocking the full potential of their future career paths within the golf industry.”

Golf Saudi, a subsidiary of the Saudi Golf Federation, is committed to delivering a national development program that transforms the golfing landscape and aims to create 3,700 jobs by 2030.

Since its formation in 2018, Golf Saudi has embarked on an ambitious national golf strategy, which has worked to support the Kingdom’s impressive Vision 2030. This agreement recognizes the importance of training the next generation of Saudis to meet expected future demand, particularly from international tourists, enhancing Saudi Arabia as a golfing destination.