Fans welcome ‘safety first’ measures as virus threatens Saudi sports events

Saudi women cheer during a soccer match between Al-Ahli and Al-Batin at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia January 12, 2018. (REUTERS)
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Updated 15 March 2020

Fans welcome ‘safety first’ measures as virus threatens Saudi sports events

  • Athletes express concern and give suggestions on social media in wake of ministry decision

JEDDAH: All sports events in Saudi Arabia have been halted because of the coronavirus outbreak.

The Ministry of Sports said the suspension includes the Mohammed bin Salman Football League and the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Cup playoffs.
The ministry said the suspension — which is part of the national safety measures — would go into effect on Sunday until further notice.
Events around the country have been affected by the spreading coronavirus. The Arab Club Champions Club semifinal round on Sunday in Riyadh has been called off.
Notable sports figures spoke to Arab News about their thoughts on the shutdown.
Ahmed Al-Sabban, president of the Saudi Arabian Fencing Federation, told Arab News that despite rejections he faced, his federation was the first in the Kingdom to take the action of suspending all activities when the virus first started to spread.
“I was concerned about the safety of my young players. Many of our board members asked me to wait but I insisted to go ahead. In order to keep my players in good shape, I sent coaches to the players’ home for private training.”
Reacting to the latest ministry decision to suspend sports temporarily, he said: “I was very happy to hear the action of the ministry because of the well-being of fans, players and staff. Everyone must come first during this situation.”
Ahmed Al-Rashid, chairman of the Competitions Committee at the Saudi Football League, said: “In this unprecedented situation, we are working closely with our clubs, the government and the officials of both the league and the cup. We can reassure everyone the health and welfare of players, staff and supporters are our priority.”
Fans of all teams were quick to respond to the news. Abdulkhaliq Al-Zahrani, an Al-Hilal Football Club supporter said: “Though this suspension will affect our team’s performance as they are at the top of the table, we understand that the main concern of the government is the safety of players.”

SPEEDREAD

The coronavirus pandemic has torn up the global sporting calendar, with infections and travel restrictions forcing the cancelation or postponement of a slew of major competitions and tournaments.

Hamid Attas, a fan of Al-Ahli Football club, said: “This is the right decision. Nobody wants football canceled, we lose part of our lives and routines. But this could make a difference to thousands of people in the sports industry. Safety will always be the priority of our government.” Former and current football players gave their views on social media.
Nawaf Al-Timiat, former midfielder for the Saudi National team and Al-Hilal, posted a message to his supporters on Twitter: “We know what football means for all but understanding the suspension of their season to assess the impact of coronavirus was the right course of action by the government.”
Fahd Al-Merdasi, former international football referee, said: “It is a wise decision by our government. Ultimately, the health and the well-being of everyone is what led the ministry to issue this decision. It will impact football performance, but health is more important.”


Tokyo Olympics rescheduled for July 23-Aug. 8 in 2021

Tokyo 2020 President Yoshiro Mori Tokyo 2020 Olympics CEO Toshiro Muto during a press conference in Tokyo on Monday. (AFP)
Updated 31 March 2020

Tokyo Olympics rescheduled for July 23-Aug. 8 in 2021

  • Organizers wanted to have more room for the athletes to qualify, after many qualifying events were postponed

TOKYO: The Tokyo Olympics will open next year in the same time slot scheduled for this year’s Games.

Tokyo organizers said Monday the opening ceremony will take place on July 23, 2021 — almost exactly one year after the Games were due to start this year.
“The schedule for the Games is key to preparing for the Games,” Tokyo organizing committee President Yoshiro Mori said. “This will only accelerate our progress.”
Last week, the IOC and Japanese organizers postponed the Olympics until 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
This year’s Games were scheduled to open on July 24 and close on Aug. 9. But the near exact one-year delay will see the rescheduled closing ceremony on Aug. 8.
There had been talk of switching the Olympics to spring, a move that would coincide with the blooming of Japan’s famous cherry blossoms. But it would also clash with European soccer and North American sports leagues.
Mori said a spring Olympics was considered but holding the Games later gives more space to complete the many qualifying events that have been postponed by the virus outbreak.
“We wanted to have more room for the athletes to qualify,” Mori said.
After holding out for weeks, local organizers and the IOC last week postponed the Tokyo Games under pressure from athletes, national Olympic bodies and sports federations. It’s the first postponement in Olympic history, though there were several cancellations during wartime. The Paralympics were rescheduled to Aug. 24-Sept. 5.
The new Olympic dates will conflict with the scheduled world championships in track and swimming, but those events are now expected to also be pushed back.
“The IOC has had close discussions with the relevant international federations,” Mori said. “I believe the IFs have accepted the Games being held in the summer.”
Both Mori and CEO Toshiro Muto have said the cost of rescheduling the Olympics will be “massive” — local reports estimate billions of dollars — with most of the expenses borne by Japanese taxpayers.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Spring Olympics was considered but holding the Games later gives more space to complete the many qualifying events.

• The new Olympic dates will conflict with the scheduled world championships in track and swimming, but those events are now expected to also be pushed back.

• The cost of rescheduling the Olympics will be ‘massive’ — local reports estimate billions of dollars — with most of the expenses borne by Japanese taxpayers.

Muto promised transparency in calculating the costs, and testing times deciding how they are divided up.
“Since it (the Olympics) were scheduled for this summer, all the venues had given up hosting any other events during this time, so how do we approach that?” Muto asked.
“In addition, there will need to be guarantees when we book the new dates, and there is a possibility this will incur rent payments. So there will be costs incurred and we will need to consider them one by one. I think that will be the tougher process.”
Katsuhiro Miyamoto, an emeritus professor of sports economics at Kansai University, puts the costs as high as $4 billion. That would cover the price of maintaining stadiums, refitting them, paying rentals, penalties and other expenses.
Japan is officially spending $12.6 billion to organize the Olympics. However, an audit bureau of the Japanese government says the costs are twice that much. All of the spending is public money except $5.6 billion from a privately funded operating budget.
The Switzerland-based International Olympic Committee is contributing $1.3 billion, according to organizing committee documents. The IOC’s contribution goes into the operating budget.
IOC President Thomas Bach has repeatedly called the Tokyo Olympics the best prepared in history. However, Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso also termed them “cursed.” Aso competed in shooting in the 1976 Olympics, and was born in 1940.
The Olympics planned for 1940 in Tokyo were canceled because of World War II.
The run-up to the Olympics also saw IOC member Tsunekazu Takeda, who also headed the Japanese Olympic Committee, forced to resign last year amid a bribery scandal.