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.”


Lewandowski scores 30th goal of season as Bayern close on title

Updated 07 June 2020

Lewandowski scores 30th goal of season as Bayern close on title

  • Bayern struck twice in quick succession just before half-time to turn the game in their favor

BERLIN: Robert Lewandowski scored his 30th league goal of the season on Saturday as Bayern Munich came from behind to claim a 4-2 victory at Bayer Leverkusen and move a step closer to the Bundesliga title.

After Lucas Alario secured an early lead for the home side, Bayern struck twice in quick succession just before half-time to turn the game in their favor after Kingsley Coman’s equalizer.

Lewandowski netted in the second half as Bayern established a 10-point lead over title rivals Borussia Dortmund, who host Hertha Berlin later on Saturday.

The game also saw Bayern lend their support to protests over the death of black American man George Floyd, with all their players wearing armbands bearing the slogan “Black Lives Matter.”

With their talisman and Bayern transfer target Kai Havertz ruled out with a muscle injury, Leverkusen turned to Alario to lead the line against the champions.

The Argentine delivered after just 9 minutes, beating the offside trap after a throw-in to slot the ball past Manuel Neuer.

A mistake from Moussa Diaby allowed Coman to curl in the equalizer, before a fizzing shot from Leon Goretzka and an elegant lob from Serge Gnabry saw Bayern take a 2-goal lead before half-time.

Lewandowski finished the job with a well-placed header after the break, reaching the 30-goal mark for only the second time in his Bundesliga career, but there was still time for 17-year-old Florian Wirtz to curl in a consolation goal for Leverkusen before the final whistle.

Elsewhere, a late equalizer from Christian Strohdiek gave bottom-of-the-table Paderborn a faint glimmer of hope in the race for survival, as they snatched a 1-1 draw away to RB Leipzig.

Chelsea-bound Leipzig striker Timo Werner set up Patrik Schick on 27 minutes to give Leipzig the lead, but they were forced to defend it with 10 men after Dayot Upamecano was booked twice in the first half.

Strohdiek’s last-minute strike gave Paderborn their fourth draw in five games, though Steffen Baumgart’s side remain 8 points off Fortuna Duesseldorf who occupy the relegation playoff place.

Duesseldorf themselves missed the chance to move toward safety, as they battled to a dramatic 2-2 draw against 10-man Hoffenheim.

A headed opener from Rouwen Hennings and a red card for Hoffenheim’s Benjamin Huebner put the home side in pole position, but the visitors struck back with goals from Munas Dabbur and Steven Zuber before Hennings saved a point with a late penalty.

Uwe Roesler’s side remain 3 points adrift of survival, after goals from Moussa Niakhate and Pierre Kunde Malong gave fellow strugglers Mainz a rare 2-0 win over local rivals Eintracht Frankfurt.