Saudi basketball team celebrates first anniversary of sports diplomacy project

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Riyadh United and the Diplomats team celebrate their one year anniversary. (AN Photo)
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Riyadh United and the Diplomats team celebrate their one year anniversary. (AN Photo)
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Riyadh United and the Diplomats team celebrate their one year anniversary. (AN Photo)
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Updated 06 February 2020

Saudi basketball team celebrates first anniversary of sports diplomacy project

  • Riyadh United has been holding regular games with the capital’s diplomatic community in a bid to promote the message of peace and understanding
  • The project was launched by co-founder of Riyadh United and Shoura Council member, Lina Al-Maeena, together with the Belgium Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Dominique Mineur

RIYADH: A Saudi basketball team is celebrating a year of sporting diplomacy aimed at strengthening international relations.

Through a unique initiative, Riyadh United players have been holding regular games with the capital’s diplomatic community in a bid to promote the message of peace and understanding between nations through sport.

The project was launched last year in the city’s Diplomatic Quarter by co-founder of Riyadh United and Shoura Council member, Lina Al-Maeena, together with the Belgium Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Dominique Mineur.

“It is an amazing initiative of women united together on a court, communicating in one language and collaborating for a healthier and happier lifestyle, while also activating one of the Vision 2030 goals of social empowerment,” said Al-Maeena.

The Kingdom aims to increase the population’s sports participation from 13 percent to 40 percent by 2030.

Mineur, captain of the Diplomats basketball team said: “We had the idea to join forces (with Al-Maeena) and have a team of diplomats against a team of Saudi ladies. It was a great idea.

“Sport is one the best ways to build bridges between people and nations. After one year of training between Saudi women and female diplomats, we look forward to many more years of friendly matches.”

The teams meet every two weeks, but plans are in the pipeline to set up weekly games.

Dalia Fatani, owner of art, craft and design Studio Lucha, and one of the first members to join the Riyadh United team, said: “The teams were established to build bridges between countries through sport, and also to strengthen our stamina as women. It gets us out, it gets us moving and we feel young again.”

Prof. Selwa Al-Hazzaa, head of the ophthalmology department at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center in Riyadh, was a guest of honor at the anniversary celebrations.

More women playing basketball, or other sports, would help to lower obesity levels and reduce the risk of developing or exacerbating diabetes, and it also highlighted the importance of exercise for a healthy lifestyle, said Al-Hazzaa. “You guys (the team members) are role models to these young girls.”

Fatani said that Al-Maeena and her husband, Obaid Madani, had first set up Jeddah United female basketball team 16 years ago to encourage more people to play her favorite sport. 

“Riyadh United is the sister of Jeddah United and we started in 2011. We really did it because we played basketball in school, but we didn’t have the ability to find a place or a coach, or a team even.

“But eventually it worked out and since then we’ve played almost yearly. It is a magnificent feeling,” added Fatani. “It’s really about building more connections with people through sports.”

Foreign missions have praised the Riyadh initiative, and in a tweet the UK Embassy said: “To celebrate the first anniversary of the Diplomats and the Riyadh United women’s teams, we played basketball to strengthen relationships, develop sports skills and make new friends. Congratulations to all of you.”


Tottenham look to seize on Chelsea’s Premier League slump

Updated 21 February 2020

Tottenham look to seize on Chelsea’s Premier League slump

LONDON: Jose Mourinho had almost reached the end of his lament about the current situation facing his weary Tottenham players when he turned his attention to their next Premier League game against a team he knows so well.

“The Chelsea players were watching this game on TV,” Mourinho said after Tottenham’s 1-0 home loss to Leipzig in the Champions League, “with nice sparkling water, with lemons and biscuits, enjoying the game.”

If only the outlook at Chelsea were so rosy.

Indeed, recent results suggest the predicament of Mourinho’s old club is more concerning than Tottenham’s.

Chelsea, somehow, find themselves still holding onto fourth place in the league heading into Saturday’s London derby against their nearest rivals in the race for Champions League qualification. That’s despite collecting only 15 points from its last 14 games, a dire run stretching back to the end of November.

At that time, Chelsea were on a six-match winning streak — its best since the team’s title-winning season of 2016-17 — and wasn’t too far behind Liverpool, the current runaway leader. Youngsters like Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori were regular starters, given their opportunity by an up-and-coming manager in Frank Lampard who is eager to promote youth. US winger Christian Pulisic was in his best form since his move from
Borussia Dortmund.

Fast forward three months and injuries are starting to bite, the kids are starting to feel the pace in a grueling season, and Lampard — a bright, eloquent and engaging manager — has been grumbling about the club’s failure to add numbers to the squad in January and his players’
wastefulness in front of goal.

“I must sound like a broken record,” a clearly frustrated Lampard said after seeing Chelsea get picked off in a 2-0 home loss to Manchester United on Monday.

Lampard’s main gripe is the team’s inability to finish off chances, which has become more pronounced with Abraham — a scorer of 13 league goals this season — currently out injured.

With Callum Hudson-Odoi and Pulisic also missing against United, Lampard played a front three of Willian, Michy Batshuayi and Pedro Rodriguez — a throwback to a few years ago and an era Chelsea fans probably thought they’d seen the back of.

Key midfielder N’Golo Kante joined Abraham on the injury list after going off early against United, while Lampard is still playing 38-year-old Willy Caballero in goal after dropping Kepa Arrizabalaga — signed in 2018 as the world’s most expensive goalkeeper.

It’s an uncertain period for Lampard, who is still a rookie in managerial terms, and Chelsea’s recent slump has seen as many as seven teams move within seven points or closer in the standings.

In that three-month period, Tottenham have won 29 points — a haul second only to Liverpool. That coincided exactly with Mourinho taking over as manager from Mauricio Pochettino.

The issue, now, is whether Spurs can keep it up, and Mourinho clearly has his doubts. With attackers Son Heung-min and Harry Kane out potentially for the rest of the season, Mourinho likened his team to someone “going to fight with a gun without bullets.”

Amid a hectic schedule that has seen his team play two FA Cup replays since the turn of the year, Mourinho said he has been forced to start with the same group of players for matches every three of four days. Erik Lamela and Tanguy Ndombele came off the bench against Leipzig having barely trained.

“I try to manage the pieces that we had,” he said.

Throw in the fact that Tottenham has a tight turnaround after the Leipzig match — Wednesday night to Saturday lunchtime — and Mourinho will feel he has genuine cause for grievance.

Yet, he is managing to scramble together results and a win at Stamford Bridge, where he previously enjoyed two separate trophy-winning spells as coach and was once revered, would see Tottenham climb above Chelsea.

Outmanoeuvring Mourinho, his former coach, in a 2-0 win at Tottenham in December was one of the few bright spots for Lampard in recent months. 

Doing so again would give him and Chelsea some much-needed breathing space in what is suddenly a bunched chase for Champions League qualification.