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.

Gattuso puts Napoli ‘on the path to victory against Barcelona’

Updated 25 min 30 sec ago

Gattuso puts Napoli ‘on the path to victory against Barcelona’

  • We certainly want to write an important page in our history, says club’s head coach

MILAN, Italy: Gennaro Gattuso’s reign as Napoli coach may have started amid turmoil but the former Italy international has put the Serie A club on the path toward a potential Champions League triumph against Barcelona.

The southern Italians head for the Camp Nou on Saturday with a first ever Champions League quarter-final berth beckoning.

“We certainly want to write an important page in our history,” said Gattuso of a feat which not even Argentine legend Diego Maradona managed to achieve with the club.

Both sides are 1-1 after the last 16, first leg in the San Paulo Stadium in February.

But Lionel Messi’s Spaniards have not been beaten at home in the Champions League in seven years as they target a 13th consecutive quarterfinal berth.

Barcelona finished second in La Liga while Napoli were seventh in Serie A, but having secured a Europa League spot thanks to their Italian Cup victory.

Gattuso admitted his “head was already on Barcelona” as his side wrapped up their league season with a 3-1 win over Lazio last weekend.

“We will play on a high-level stage and we want to be worthy of it,” he said.

“We know that if we want to compete against Barcelona we will have to take risks.”

The big question will be how to stop six-time Ballon d’Or winner Messi, a problem which former AC Milan midfielder Gattuso would have happily tackled as a player.

“I can mark Messi only in my dreams, or on my son’s PlayStation,” said the 42-year-old former Glasgow Rangers player, who won two Champions League titles with AC Milan.

“We are ready to face Barcelona. We have our style, we are prepared. But they have one player named Messi who can leave 10 players behind.”

As a player, Gattuso had a fiery reputation, with a dogged never-say-die attitude.

In Naples, more than rage he has brought calm to a locker room traumatized after a disastrous first half of the season under Carlo Ancelotti, his former coach in Milan.

This despite sparse coaching credentials, coming through Sion, Palermo, OFI Crete, Pisa and his beloved Milan before arriving in Naples. He was harshly judged after his 18 months at AC Milan despite their fifth-place finish last season, missing out on the Champions League by one point.

But his successor Marco Giampaolo was sacked after just seven matches.

“It’s a profession that cannot be learned from books but by getting knocked in the teeth. I have had a few failures and will have many more,” said Gattuso.

Since the end of January, and after a difficult start to life in Naples with the team plunging to 13th position and Gattuso facing ridicule, the team have been reborn.

He has given confidence back to players including Lorenzo Insigne, Nikola Maksimovic and Kalidou Koulibaly.

His reputation as a 2006 World Cup star and two-time Champions League and Serie A winner holds weight in the locker room, along with his straight talking style, and work ethic.

“(Gattuso) Rino is the most respected coach in the dressing room since I have been here,” said Napoli owner Aurelio De Laurentiis.

Gattuso’s first trophy came in the Italian Cup just days after the death of his younger sister.

Napoli won a dramatic penalty shootout against Juventus in Rome for their first trophy in six years — a feat not achieved under Gattuso’s predecessors Maurizio Sarri and Ancelotti.