Al-Rajhi wins at Sharqiya Baja, seals Saudi Toyota Desert Series title

Al-Rajhi wins at Sharqiya Baja, seals Saudi Toyota Desert Series title
Yazeed Al-Rajhi scores an emphatic victory in the third stage of the Sharqiya Baja. (Twitter photo)
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Updated 15 December 2019

Al-Rajhi wins at Sharqiya Baja, seals Saudi Toyota Desert Series title

Al-Rajhi wins at Sharqiya Baja, seals Saudi Toyota Desert Series title
  • Drivers welcome Saudi race as good preparation for upcoming Dakar Rally

HALF MOON BAY, Eastern Province: Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi scored an emphatic victory in the third stage of the Sharqiya Baja when he carded the quickest time, in spite of a change in the overnight timings that had put him three seconds behind his Spanish rival Carlos Sainz.

Al-Rajhi and co-driver Michael Orr guided their Toyota Hilux to a time of 1hr 08min 56sec on the 171.25km stage, which was enough to seal a winning margin of 1min 17sec and confirm the Saudi Toyota Desert Championship title in superb style.

Sainz had been handed the outright lead on Friday evening by Baja officials after a three-minute timing discrepancy for Al-Rajhi was corrected and he slipped to second overall. Numerous other competitors saw their times for the stage changed and Mishal Alghuneim found himself leading the motorcycle category.

“It is a nice feeling to win the new Baja and the new Saudi Toyota Desert Championship,” said Al-Rajhi. “It has been an enjoyable few weeks competing here and it has given us a chance to prepare well for the Dakar Rally, which is coming up very quickly.”

Sainz and fellow Spaniard Lucas Cruz used the last round of the new Saudi series as a useful shakedown for the Dakar Rally in January and pushed the winners all the way across the deserts of the Eastern Province in their X–raid MINI JCW Buggy.

They finished 8min 54sec in front of third-placed Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi, the Peugeot 2008 driver, who overhauled ED Racing’s Essa Al-Dossari to snatch the final podium spot on the last day.




List of the top 10 finishers in the car race. (Sharqiyah Baja 2019 website)

Sainz said: “I am generally happy with the shakedown and the test. I think it was good to have a taste of the temperature and learn a little bit about what we are going to find in a couple of weeks. Regarding today, after what happened yesterday (Yasir’s crash), I took it very easily because this is our race car and it was not the moment to take any risks. I am happy we learned things with the car, even if the conditions were not the best, especially with the rain yesterday. No problems. Everything was positive.”

Following Yasir Seaidan’s retirement after his high-speed roll on Friday, Czech driver Miroslav Zapletal was left to finish the event in an unchallenged fifth with his Ford F-150 Evo.

Zapletal finished over 42 minutes in front of sixth-placed Farhan Al-Muharib, who clinched a 2min 57sec win over Khalid Al-Hamzani in a Nissan-dominated T2 section for series production cross-country vehicles. Hamzani also finished in seventh overall, while Yousef Al-Suwaidi was eighth and third in T2.

Omar Allahim was classified in ninth in his Nissan Patrol. Saleh Al-Saif lost over 10 minutes in the final stage, but still managed to round off the top 10 and seal the win in the T3 category with a Can-Am after nearest rival Conrad Rautenbach of Zimbabwe ceded over an hour in the day’s stage and slipped to 20th overall in his PH Sport Can-Am Zephyr.

Yousef Al-Dhaif had already sealed the Saudi NUTV Championship before the final round and the Can-Am driver wrapped up a successful campaign with another category win. Second place for Majed Al-Tuwaijri ensured that he finished as series runner-up at the expense of Fahad Al-Naim.

Ibrahim Al-Muhanna, Osama Al-Sanad and Raed Abo Theeb completed their pre-Dakar Rally preparations with a solid finish in a T4 Mercedes.

Mishal Alghuneim maintained the advantage in the motorcycle category that he had been awarded when a timing error was corrected and the KTM rider held on to seal a winning margin of 6min 14sec over Haysham Al-Haysham.

Anas Al-Ruhyni finished third, but Emirati rider Othman Al-Ghufeli retired on the stage.

Abdulmajeed Al-Khulaifi confirmed victory in the Saudi Quad Championship with a third victory of the season to follow his successes at the Qassim and AlUla-Neom rallies.

The Yamaha rider finished an unofficial fourth on the stage, but did enough to see off the challenge of runner-up and main series rival Riyadh Al-Oraifan. Sufiyan Al-Omar came in third after incurring a five-minute time penalty.

The event was organized by the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation (SAMF), under the chairmanship of Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al-Abdullah Al-Faisal and the supervision of former FIA Middle East champion Abdullah Bakhashab.

The new Baja enjoyed the support of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation, the General Sport Authority, Abdul Latif Jameel Motors (Toyota), the MBC Group, Al-Arabia outdoors and the Saudi Research and Marketing Group.


How a group of Saudi female showjumpers took over the reins

The Equestrian Union was established in 2015 bu group of Saudi female riders with an aim to compete on equal footing with male counterparts. (The Equestrian Union)
The Equestrian Union was established in 2015 bu group of Saudi female riders with an aim to compete on equal footing with male counterparts. (The Equestrian Union)
Updated 01 March 2021

How a group of Saudi female showjumpers took over the reins

The Equestrian Union was established in 2015 bu group of Saudi female riders with an aim to compete on equal footing with male counterparts. (The Equestrian Union)
  • The Equestrian Union was formed in 2015 to allow women to compete on equal footing with men in the Kingdom

DUBAI: If it doesn’t exist, create it.

That seems to be the attitude of Saudi female athletes increasingly taking matters into their own hands. Women footballers and motor-racing drivers in the Kingdom have rightly been making the headlines recently.

But a group of six female showjumpers have been riding the wave of change even before societal reforms swept through the Kingdom and brought gender equality to the fore, as part of its Vision 2030 goals.

For years, the group of friends would attend showjumping competitions throughout the season as spectators. Until one day, while at an Equestrian Federation show in Jenadriya, they decided to establish an organization that would cater to their love of the sport, and allow them to compete on equal terms with male show jumpers.

They named it the Equestrian Union.

“Equestrian Union is an initiative that we started as Saudi female riders back in 2015, addressing the fact that there were no competitions that allowed female participation in Saudi Arabia at that time,” Mashael bint Mansour Binsultan, one of the founding showjumpers, told Arab News. She has been riding horses for the past 20 years.

“We had top imported horses, professional trainers, private stables and all the unconditional support of our families. We trained daily and took care of our horses; it was a lifestyle,” she added.

There was further positive change when in 2019, the Equestrian Federation opened up opens up participation for all female riders.

After that, progress has been rapid. In December 2019, 13 female Saudi equestrians made their home debut as part of the Diriyah Season, competing with their male counterparts for the first time ever in the Kingdom.

Binsultan, along with Sara Alruwaita, Ajwa Alsaud, Loulouah Bandar, Shuaa Alakeel and Sara Aljowie, had been honing their organisational skills long before that.

“We (had) started planning and managing events during the winter season since 2015, which shed light on showjumping competitions specifically but also included many other aspects such as cycling, hiking, archery, promoting local Saudi brands, food trucks, and horse trails,” Binsultan explained. “As a result, we gained experience in managing and organizing shows and events.”

Their first show took place in October 2015 and met all the standards of the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI).

“We want to continue promoting not only showjumping, but also social family-oriented sporting events and recreational activities, which is one of the main strategic goals of the Saudi Vision 2030,” Binsultan said. “Our families and friends were extremely supportive since the beginning. We were also fortunate enough to get added technical experience and support from local and international companies that sponsored some of the showjumping classes.”

Mansour AlMugatti, an international course designer and judge, continues to lend his support with the events to this day.

“We were very happy with the support and positive feedback we had from the Equestrian Federation which came from Prince Abdullah Bin Fahad, the president of the Equestrian Federation, honoring the winners in our last event,” she added.

Binsultan said, under the administration of the Minister of Sports Prince Abdulaziz Bin Turki, equestrian tournaments, in particular the Saudi Cup, are joining some of the highest profile events in the Kingdom — such as Formula E, the Clash on the Dunes heavyweight boxing bout, the Diriyah Tennis Cup and the Asian Games 2034.

Moreover, Saudi Arabia will host international four and five star showjumping events in Riyadh during the 2020-2021 season, and the Equestrian World Games 2024.

“I was immediately interested as, at the time, we did not have shows that allowed women to compete in Saudi Arabia and it was a fun way to spend the day with my friends, family and horses,” Bandar told Arab News. “I have always been into horses. I really don’t know why or how it started but both my parents rode as children and encouraged me when I expressed interest. I have a lot of family members who owned horses so I have always been around them.”

Bandar believes the Union provides a platform for equestrian lovers to practice their skills, without the pressures that comes with competing at a federation show.

“It’s a great place to come to if you are a beginner, someone with a new horse or even someone wanting to get in extra ‘schooling’ with your horse,” said the 26-year-old. “It’s also important because, a lot of the time, riders spend weekends at shows away from their family and friends, and with Equestrian Union, they can have a day out and enjoy it with their family members and loved ones.”

Alruwaita’s passion for horse-riding began at the age of 15 and alongside a friend, she went on to open “Tack Shack”, an equestrian goods store in Riyadh.

“I loved it,” she said, addressing the changes that have taken place in the Kingdom over the last decade. “Everything changed, the sport itself, the type of competitions and even the riders. Today, we have more competitions, the riders’ levels have improved, and there are more people involved.”

For Binsultan, the success of the Equestrian Union is down to the opportunities have presented themselves in the wake of societal and social change in the Kingdom.

“Everyone can see the reform that Saudi Arabia is going through with the leadership of (the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques) King Salman, and the ambitious vision of the Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman,” Binsultan said. “The vision touches on all aspects of life across all social and economic dimensions, with a strong focus on enhancing the quality of life with a specific focus on human well-being through the promotion of the sports sector. We wish all the best to our Kingdom and hope we can be a part of this optimistic vision.”


Police enter Barcelona’s stadium in search operation

Police enter Barcelona’s stadium in search operation
Updated 01 March 2021

Police enter Barcelona’s stadium in search operation

Police enter Barcelona’s stadium in search operation
  • Police said detentions were made but did not say who or how many people were taken into custody
  • The club said authorities were at the team’s headquarters but did not provide any more detail

BARCELONA: Spanish police entered Barcelona’s stadium and detained some people on Monday in a search and seize operation related to an investigation into club officials.
Police said detentions were made but did not say who or how many people were taken into custody.
The club said authorities were at the team’s headquarters but did not provide any more detail.
The operation was related to last year’s “Barçagate,” in which club officials were accused of launching a smear campaign against current and former players who were critical of the club and then-president Josep Maria Bartomeu.
Barcelona had denied accusations that it hired — and overpaid — a company to make negative comments about its own players and opponents on social media in order to boost the image of senior club officials.
The company was accused of using fake social media accounts to discredit opposition figures when they expressed views that went against the club. Some of the figures supposedly included players such Lionel Messi and Gerard Piqué, as well as former coach Pep Guardiola.
The club later released an independent audit report showing that there was no wrongdoing.
Bartomeu and his board of directors resigned last year amid fallout from the controversy surrounding Lionel Messi. The club has been mired in political turmoil and debt prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.
The operation comes less than a week before presidential elections are to be held at the club.


Liverpool beats Sheffield United 2-0 to end EPL losing run

Liverpool beats Sheffield United 2-0 to end EPL losing run
Updated 01 March 2021

Liverpool beats Sheffield United 2-0 to end EPL losing run

Liverpool beats Sheffield United 2-0 to end EPL losing run
  • The 20-year-old academy graduate Curtis Jones made the breakthrough for Liverpool in the 48th minute when he fired in off Trent Alexander-Arnold’s deflected cross

SHEFFIELD, England: Liverpool halted a run of four defeats in the Premier League as it ended a miserable February with a 2-0 win over last-place Sheffield United on Sunday.
A series of fine first-half saves from Sheffield goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale kept the defending champions at bay in the first half. The 20-year-old academy graduate Curtis Jones made the breakthrough for Liverpool in the 48th minute when he fired in off Trent Alexander-Arnold’s deflected cross. There was a brief check for whether the ball had gone out of play in the buildup but there was no conclusive evidence that it had.
Oliver McBurnie sent a header wide in Sheffield’s best chance of leveling the score before Liverpool made it 2-0 in the 64th. Roberto Firmino weaved through the defense before hitting a shot which took a deflection before going past Ramsdale. The Premier League ruled it was an own-goal for Sheffield’s Kean Bryan, meaning Firmino went a seventh game without a goal in the league and Champions League.
The second goal took the game out of reach for a Sheffield team with just three league wins all season as Liverpool marked its first league game without conceding a goal since a 0-0 draw with Manchester United on Jan. 17.
However, it was not the kind of emphatic victory which might have boosted Liverpool’s confidence further after a miserable recent run which included last week’s defeat to rival Everton and losses to Manchester City and Leicester which buried an already ailing bid to retain the title.
Mohamed Salah missed from close range in the 80th and Liverpool goalkeeper Adrian, standing in for Alisson Becker after his father died, stopped a late attempt from Oliver Burke.


Man Utd frustrated by penalty row in Chelsea stalemate

Man Utd frustrated by penalty row in Chelsea stalemate
Updated 01 March 2021

Man Utd frustrated by penalty row in Chelsea stalemate

Man Utd frustrated by penalty row in Chelsea stalemate
  • United now sit 12 points behind leaders Manchester City as their title hopes fade

LONDON: Manchester United were left frustrated by a VAR penalty controversy in their 0-0 draw at Chelsea, while the revitalised Gareth Bale struck twice in Tottenham’s 4-0 rout of Burnley on Sunday.

Second-placed United had hoped to close the gap on Manchester City with a victory at Stamford Bridge.

But instead they now sit 12 points behind the Premier League leaders as their title hopes fade following a run of one win from four games.

Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel is unbeaten in nine matches in all competitions since replacing the sacked Frank Lampard, but the stalemate was a blow to his team’s top-four challenge.

The fifth-placed Blues are one point behind fourth-placed West Ham and four ahead of sixth-placed Liverpool, who visit Sheffield United in Sunday’s late game.

Neither side could claim they deserved to win in a game of few clear-cut chances.

The biggest talking point came in the first half when United’s appeal for a penalty was rejected by referee Stuart Attwell after he consulted the pitchside monitor when Callum Hudson-Odoi appeared to handle in a challenge with Mason Greenwood.

After five defeats in their previous six league games, Tottenham eased the pressure on Jose Mourinho with a significant contribution from Bale, who made just his third league start of the season.

The Wales forward’s most impressive display since his season-long loan move from Real Madrid gave him four goals in his last four appearances.

Bale, who had clashed with Tottenham boss Mourinho over his fitness earlier in February, took just 68 seconds to score with a clinical close-range finish from Son Heung-min’s cross.

In the 15th minute, Bale’s superb long pass picked out Harry Kane’s run and the England captain’s shot deflected off James Tarkowski for his 22nd goal of the season.

Lucas Moura netted with a predatory finish after Sergio Reguilon’s cross was deflected into the Brazilian’s path by Tarkowski in the 31st minute.

Bale, in his second spell with Tottenham after leaving for Madrid in 2013, scored again with a cool strike from Son’s 55th-minute pass.

Tottenham are up to eighth, six points behind the top four with a game in hand.

“Sometimes you (the media) like to say things that are not really true but there is not one single manager in the world that doesn’t play Gareth Bale if Gareth Bale is in very good condition,” Mourinho said.

“There is not one, but now he is better than ever. It’s not just about the two goals he scored, it’s fundamentally about his physical performance.”

Arsenal delivered a hammer blow to Leicester’s faint hopes of winning the title with an impressive 3-1 win.

Mikel Arteta’s side fell behind to Youri Tielemans’ early goal at the King Power Stadium, but David Luiz equalised and Alexandre Lacazette’s penalty gave Arsenal the lead.

Nicolas Pepe’s second-half goal sealed the Gunners’ second win in their last six league games and their first success at a team in the Premier League’s top three since 2015.

Leicester remain in third place and trail City by 13 points with 12 games remaining.

After Thursday’s shock Europa League exit against Slavia Prague, it was a week to forget for Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers.

With Arsenal stuck in mid-table, Arteta has prioritised winning the Europa League as his side’s only hope of qualifying for next season’s Champions League.

Having picked his best team for the come-from-behind win against Benfica in the last 32 second leg on Thursday, Arteta left Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Bukayo Saka on the bench after the long trip back from the neutral venue in Greece.

After the gamble paid off, Arteta said: “Coming into this game I was concerned. They’re one of the most dangerous teams in the league to play once you go behind against them.

“The reaction was terrific, the team looked really mature.”

Third-bottom Fulham are three points from safety after a 0-0 draw at Crystal Palace.


Ice-master Tanak claims Arctic Rally

Ice-master Tanak claims Arctic Rally
Updated 01 March 2021

Ice-master Tanak claims Arctic Rally

Ice-master Tanak claims Arctic Rally
  • Tanak, who secured his 14th career win in the top category

ROVANIEMI, Finland: Ott Tanak held off Finnish home hope Kalle Rovanpera on Sunday to win the inaugural Arctic Rally.

The Estonian, world rally champion in 2019 when with the Finland-based Toyota team, emerged master of the demanding frozen forest circuit behind the wheel of his Hyundai.

“First, when you come to a new event it’s always a bit unexpected,” he told wrc.com.

“This weekend, we came to the home country of Toyota and we expected them to be very strong.

“The pressure was there and we knew it was going to be very complicated to take the fight. In the end we did a very good weekend — nothing too much, only one mistake yesterday (Saturday).”

Tanak, who secured his 14th career win in the top category, added: “It’s an amazing place — definitely one of the best places to have a winter rally, especially yesterday, it was so demanding.

“I think to come back here a second time would be much more enjoyable, especially when you know where you are going!”

The 33-year-old’s Belgian teammate Thierry Neuville had to settle for third after his battle with Rovanpera, the 20-year-old who takes the early lead in the championship standings.

Tanak’s winning margin after Sunday’s two closing stages, was 17.5 seconds, with Neuville 2.5sec behind Rovanpera, the winner of the Power Stage and for whom this was the best result of his young career.

“It was a superb weekend for me and Jonne (Halttunen, his co-driver), we did all that we could and we’re happy to take second,” said the Finn, claiming his second podium place after Sweden in 2020.

He moved on to 39 points in the championship, four clear of Neuville.

A further four points behind sits France’s reigning champion Sebastien Ogier who trailed in over 10 minutes adrift after driving into a snowbank on the final turn on Saturday.

Ogier and co-driver Julien Ingrassia, climbed back into their Toyota and finished the stage but with their hopes of victory dashed.

Tanak lies fifth in the fledgling rankings, on 27 points, all earned here after retiring with a double puncture from the opening Monte Carlo Rally in January.

This second leg of the championship was held without fans due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The WRC circus next sets up camp in Croatia at the end of April.