Saudi Arabia makes history with AlUla Desert Polo match

The Winter at Tantora festival will feature a special polo event that is played on sand rather than the usual grass. (Photo/Supplied)
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Updated 04 February 2020

Saudi Arabia makes history with AlUla Desert Polo match

  • It is the first event of its kind to be played on sand, and first organized by the Saudi Polo Federation

JEDDAH: A very special equestrian event this week will break new ground not only for Saudi Arabia but for global sport.

AlUla Desert Polo is the first official polo event to be played on a field of sand, rather than the more usual grass. It is also the first match organized in association with the Saudi Polo Federation, which was formed in July 2018.

However, as federation chairman Amr Zedan explained, the inspiration for the event, which will take place from Jan. 16 to 18 as part of the Winter at Tantora festival, comes from a very different environment.

“It’s inspired by the snow polo event in St. Moritz,” he said. “AlUla Desert Polo is a unique event in both Saudi and global terms.”

Zedan, who has played polo around the world for 20 years, established the Zedan Polo Team in 2005. However, this week’s event is particularly special to him, as he hopes it will help to promote the sport in the Kingdom, encourage young people to give it a go and provide a solid foundation for its future growth in the country, which is something he is passionate about.

“From my perspective, the highlight of AlUla Desert Polo is the power that sport has to instigate positive change in society,” he said.

Zedan believes the Saudi Vision 2030 initiative to develop and diversify the country’s economy and society has helped to make great strides in the development of many sports, including polo.

“Saudi Arabia has a great pool of untapped talent in all sporting arenas,” he said, adding that a growing number of Saudi equestrians have excelled in international competitions around the world.

“We know that many young Saudis love horses and we want to give them a chance to become involved in what is an exciting and rewarding sport. This event brings the world’s best.”

First played as long ago as the 6th century BC, according to some historians, polo is one of the oldest equestrian sports in the world. Two teams of four players on horseback use mallets with long handles to attempt to hit a wooden ball into the opposition’s goal. The desert sands of AlUla not only provide a different type of terrain on which to play, but the ancient, historic location is an unusually stunning venue.

“Polo has never been played against such a unique, spectacular and unspoiled backdrop before,” said Zedan. “AlUla is an ancient, UNESCO World Heritage site, with very strong links to the horse heritage that runs throughout Saudi Arabia. It will be an outstanding event, one that the people who play in it and watch it will never forget.”

The safety and welfare of the horses is paramount, given the unusual venue and surface. Zedan said that experts have been brought in to prepare a playing surface that is suitable and safe for the animals, without damaging the unspoiled landscape of AlUla’s sandstone outcrops.

“This game has given me so much pleasure over the years and I feel great satisfaction in being able to now share this passion with the people of Saudi Arabia,” he added. “In addition, I am from the Madinah Al-Munawara region, of which AlUla is a part, so this event is something of a homecoming for me.”

The rebirth of AlUla
Hegra, ancient city of the Nabataeans in Saudi Arabia’s historic AlUla Valley, is emerging from the mists of time to take its rightful place as one of the wonders of the world

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Rooney says handling of Premier League pay row ‘a disgrace’

Wayne Rooney said he had the means and the will to make financial contributions, but felt the public pressure being exerted on players was unhelpful. (Files/AFP)
Updated 05 April 2020

Rooney says handling of Premier League pay row ‘a disgrace’

  • The Premier League’s suggested strategy involving a combination of pay cuts and deferrals amounting to 30 percent of wages, was discussed in a conference call with players’ and managers’ representatives on Saturday

NEW YORK: Wayne Rooney has criticized the government and the Premier League for placing footballers in a “no-win situation” over proposed pay cuts after players were urged to make sacrifices during the coronavirus crisis.
The former England captain, now playing with Championship side Derby, penned an impassioned column in the Sunday Times saying his fellow professionals were “easy targets” in the wider response to the pandemic.
It came after the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) said a proposed 30 percent pay cut could hurt the National Health Service because it would hit tax receipts.
Rooney said he had both the means and the will to make financial contributions, either in the form of salary reductions or direct donations to the NHS, but felt the public pressure being exerted on players was unhelpful.
The Premier League’s suggested strategy involving a combination of pay cuts and deferrals amounting to 30 percent of wages, was discussed in a conference call with players’ and managers’ representatives on Saturday.
Initial talks were already taking place before key political figures, including Health Secretary Matt Hancock, called for action.
“If the government approached me to help support nurses financially or buy ventilators I’d be proud to do so — as long as I knew where the money was going,” wrote Rooney.
The 34-year-old added: “I’m in a place where I could give something up. Not every footballer is in the same position. Yet suddenly the whole profession has been put on the spot with a demand for 30 percent pay cuts across the board. Why are footballers suddenly the scapegoats?
“How the past few days have played out is a disgrace.”
The Premier League has been seen as lagging behind other European leagues in its response to coronavirus and was accused by one British lawmaker of operating in a “moral vacuum.”
But Rooney questioned the wisdom of the Premier League in preempting behind-the-scenes talks involving players with its own proposals for sweeping reductions.
“In my opinion it is now a no-win situation,” he said. “Whatever way you look at it, we’re easy targets.”
He said the Premier League’s contribution of £20 million to the NHS was “a drop in the ocean” compared with the amount clubs would save with wage cuts.
And he questioned why stars from other sports were not the focus of similar attention.
Former England striker Gary Lineker echoed Rooney’s sentiments, telling the BBC that footballers he had spoken to were “desperately keen” to offer help but were an easy target.
“Why not call on all the wealthy to try and help if they possibly can rather than just pick on footballers?” he said.
“Nobody seems to talk about the bankers, the CEOs, huge millionaires. Are they standing up? Are they being asked to stand up? We don’t know.”