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.”


Tiger Woods cautious about return ahead of Memorial

Updated 15 July 2020

Tiger Woods cautious about return ahead of Memorial

  • PGA Tour officials confirmed that the remainder of the 2019-2020 season would take place without fans

WASHINGTON: Tiger Woods admitted Tuesday that concern over the coronavirus delayed his return to the PGA Tour as he prepares to play his first event since February at this week's Memorial Tournament in Ohio.

The former world No. 1 has not played since appearing in the Genesis Invitational in Los Angeles in February but will tee off at Muirfield on Thursday chasing a sixth victory in the Jack Nicklaus-hosted event.

The 44-year-old 15-time major winner said Tuesday he had contemplated returning to the tour earlier but had wanted to see how the first few events of the post-coronavirus shutdown fared before coming back.

"I just felt it was better to stay at home and be safe," Woods said Tuesday.

"I'm used to playing with lots of people around me or having lots of people have a direct line to me, and that puts not only myself in danger but my friends and family, and just been at home practicing and social distancing and being away from a lot of people.

"Coming back and playing the tour, in my case over the 20-some-odd years I've been out here, that's really hard to say, that I'm used to having so many people around me or even touch me, going from green to tee.

"That's something that I looked at and said, well, I'm really not quite comfortable with that, that whole idea."

Memorial organizers had initially planned to allow fans on the course at this week's tournament, but abandoned that idea as COVID-19 cases across the US began to skyrocket.

On Monday, PGA Tour officials confirmed that the remainder of the 2019-2020 season would take place without fans.

It means Woods will tee off on Thursday alongside world No. 1 Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka without the customary horde of spectators that usually follows him around a course.

"It's going to be different, there's no doubt about it," Woods said.

"For most of my career, pretty much almost every competitive playing round that I've been involved in, I've had people around me, spectators yelling, a lot of movement inside the gallery with camera crews and media."

Woods, who is making only his fourth tournament appearance of the season this week, said he has improved his health during the long layoff.

A stiff back hampered his performance at the Genesis in February, but Woods said he had not been troubled since.

"I feel so much better than I did then," Woods said.

"I've been able to train and concentrate on getting back up to speed and back up to tournament speed.

During Woods' layoff, the US was convulsed by nationwide protests against racism following the death of unarmed African-American man George Floyd during his arrest by police in Minneapolis on May 25.

Woods said he applauded efforts of Black Lives Matter activists to bring about change.

"I think change is fantastic as long as we make changes without hurting the innocent, and unfortunately that has happened. 

Hopefully it doesn't happen in the future, but a movement and change is fantastic," Woods said.

"That's how society develops. That's how we grow. That's how we move forward. That's how we have fairness."