Saudi Arabia launches huge global sports project: Mahd Sports Academy

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman with Minister for Sports Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal. (Supplied)
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Updated 24 July 2020

Saudi Arabia launches huge global sports project: Mahd Sports Academy

  • The Kingdom’s Sports Ministry plans to harness talent in Saudi youth from a very early age

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s remarkable sporting transformation of recent years is set to continue with the launch of a brand new venture called the Mahd Sports Academy on July 27, through support from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The interest of Saudi Twitter users was piqued last week when a new account started to publish videos hinting at a new project, with the Kingdom’s Sports Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal promoting the content from his personal account with a caption: “The time has come.”

The Mahd Sports Academy launched its own account by tweeting: “A lot was lost and the time has come to make up for everything.” 

The tweet was followed by a snapshot of a little girl telling the world that her dreams would not be relinquished. A clip of a small boy holding a football was also shared on the social media platform, with the caption: “The time has come to shout your name”. Just a day ago, the same account shared a video of a little girl holding a tennis racket, and finally, one of a boy in the pool.

According to sources with knowledge of the matter, the Mahd Sports Academy will be available to all Saudi children starting from the age of 6, and according to Arab News sources, the academy will be accessible to both genders.

The Kingdom’s Sports Ministry plans to harness talent in Saudi youth from a very early age, under the supervision of highly experienced technical and administrative experts and in accordance with the latest international practices and techniques.

The Mahd Sports Academy, which will launch on Monday, will be one of the largest sports academies in the world, aiming at building a new generation of Saudi sporting champions over the coming years, in major regional, continental and global events.

Through nurturing young Saudi talent and giving it the best opportunity to flourish, the Kingdom hopes to improve on its sporting record in events such as the FIFA World Cup and Olympic Games.

Since the launch of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 program, the Kingdom has witnessed a remarkable shift in the sporting sector by creating a global professional climate to attract the world's attention, diversifying the economy’s resources and creating a sport-practicing vibrant community.

This shift has seen the Kingdom host major sporting events, such as the Spanish and Italian Super Cups, the Dakar Rally, Formula E and the World Heavyweight Boxing championship.

And hoping to tap into this shift, Prince Abdulaziz has, since his appointment as Minister of Sports in December 2018, worked with the Director General of the Saudi Arabian Leadership Institute, Abdullah bin Faisal Hammad and the Ministry of Education to work with physical education teachers and schoolchildren aged 6 years old and above in discovering and promoting talent in cities across Saudi Arabia.

This is the first step in building future champions. After discovering the talent, they will then work with veteran coaches who will then be recruited for all games, for both genders. Training will begin for these kids in their cities until they reach the age at which they can register in clubs and teams.

The Ministry of Sports has also concluded more than 40 agreements with sports universities, in which Saudi students have been enrolled to obtain important programs and diplomas, such as Real Madrid University, the prestigious Harvard University, and the Dutch University of Johan Cruyff, with the aim of obtaining qualifications that will benefit Saudis over time.

Saudi Arabia is hoping for a sporting boom, which may change the course of sport in the Kingdom a decade from now, with ideal timing that corresponds with Vision 2030’s aim for attracting investment from around the world into new projects such as NEOM, Al Qiddiya, Al-Ula, Red Sea and Downtown Jeddah.

Atletico catching all the breaks in Champions League

Updated 12 August 2020

Atletico catching all the breaks in Champions League

  • A victory against Leipzig will put Atletico back in the semifinals for the first time since 2017

LISBON: So far so good for Atletico Madrid in the quest for their first Champions League title.

Diego Simeone’s team have caught all the breaks going into the decisive final-eight tournament in Lisbon.

Old foes Real Madrid and Cristiano Ronaldo are gone. They drew Leipzig instead of a more traditional powerhouse for the quarterfinals. And their rival lost its top player after Timo Werner left for Chelsea. Even when things went wrong and the squad was hit by COVID-19, Atletico avoided the worst as only two players were infected and they could still make the trip to Portugal.

Things have been looking good for Simeone and his players.

A victory against Leipzig on Thursday will put Atletico back in the semifinals for the first time since it was eliminated by Ronaldo’s Madrid in the last four in 2017. Ronaldo and Madrid had defeated Atletico in the final in 2014 and 2016, and also ended the rival’s run in the quarterfinals in 2015.

Ronaldo again was Atletico’s nemesis last season after joining Juventus. Atletico lost to the Italian team in the round of 16 after Ronaldo scored a hat trick in the decisive second leg in Turin.

But this time Ronaldo and Juventus were eliminated by Lyon in the last 16, the same stage in which Madrid were knocked out of the tournament by Manchester City. Only two past champions are still left in the competition — Barcelona and Bayern Munich — and they play against each other in the opposite side of the draw, meaning Atletico could only meet one of them in the final.

Leipzig are a relative newcomer to the Champions League, having reached the group stage only twice. This is the first time they made it to the knockout round. They eliminated Tottenham in the round of 16, but now they won't count on top scorer Werner, who did not extend his contract by a few weeks to finish the season with the German club before moving to Chelsea.

Atletico stunned defending European champion Liverpool in the last 16, advancing after a 3-2 win in England.

“The game against Liverpool will go down in history and was one of the best we’ve had in a long time,” Atletico striker Diego Costa said. “It gave fans high expectations and we will give our best to try to meet those expectations. Hopefully we will play well and luck will stay on our side.”

Costa said Atletico will not take Leipzig lightly despite  the rival’s lack of experience in international competitions.

“They are very strong on the ball and know what they are about,” he said. “They have made it to the quarterfinals and have no pressure.”

There was a scare within Atletico this week when it announced two positive test results for COVID-19 among the group that was traveling to Lisbon. There were concerns that an outbreak within the club could have affected the team’s participation in the tournament in Portugal, but new tests showed that only Ángel Correa and Sime Vrsaljko were infected and the squad could travel to Lisbon.

Vrsaljko was not even going to play because he is nursing an injury, while Correa isn't among Atletico’s top stars even though he led the team in assists this season.

After coming agonizingly close recently, Atletico hope the breaks will keep going their way and that they  will finally get to lift the coveted European trophy.