Saudi club Al-Hilal impresses with social media success

Saudi club Al-Hilal impresses with social media success
Al-Hilal after winning a record-equaling third Asian Champions League title in November last year in Saitama, Japan. (Files/AFP)
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Updated 11 September 2020

Saudi club Al-Hilal impresses with social media success

Saudi club Al-Hilal impresses with social media success

LONDON: When Al-Hilal became Asian champions for the third time last November, they joined Pohang Steelers of South Korea as the most successful teams in the continent’s history. When it comes to social media however, it is clear who is No. 1 in Asia.

With 9 million followers on Twitter, Al-Hilal are head and shoulders above the rest and have 150 times more followers than Pohang. It is not just about Asia; Al-Hilal rank alongside the biggest clubs in the world on the platform and surpass the likes of European giants Bayern Munich and Juventus. 

Other leading teams in the Saudi Pro League are also far ahead of continental counterparts, with Al-Ittihad close to 4 million and Al-Nassr near 3 million. Some of Asia’s biggest clubs, such as Urawa Reds of Japan with their 400,000 followers, can only dream of such figures. Only Indonesian giants can come close, with Persija Jakarta at 2.9 million followers on Twitter and Persib Bandung at 3.3 million.

In 2019, the Saudi league was ranked as the third-highest league in the world in terms of fan interaction on social media. Tweets about the league reached 80 million from 40 million accounts, surpassing the Bundesliga, Serie A and Ligue One. Only the English Premier League and La Liga had higher rates of engagement.

How have Saudi clubs done it? That is a question that people are starting to ask around Asia. One reason is the sheer numbers on Twitter. “It has always been by far the most popular social media platform in Saudi Arabia,” said Wael Jabir, founder and CEO of Ahdaaf, a Dubai-based football digital content company. “In fact, Saudi Arabia has one of the highest percentages of population on the platform worldwide.”

Jabir noted that Al-Hilal have improved their quality of late but believes that these clubs gain a major advantage from the size of their fanbases. “I’d even argue that the top four Saudi clubs are not even the best in the league in terms of social media content quality, but their popularity is such that above average content gets massive engagement.”

FASTFACT

 

Al-Hilal and other Saudi teams are not going to rival the likes of Barcelona in terms of global profile, but they can raise their standing across the world. 

That engagement leads to a higher quality social media presence, however, as fans and clubs interact. 

“If we take a look on Al-Hilal’s social media platforms, we will see how most of their content is football-related,” Xavi Bove, sports marketing consultant, said. “Lineups, results, goals celebrations or post-game photographs are predominant in their feed. The club publishes original content regarding players’ birthdays or families.” The Spaniard believes that more behind-the-scenes or fan-generated content would improve the product further. “Such strategies have been very useful for clubs like FC Barcelona.”

Al-Hilal and other Saudi teams are not going to rival the likes of Barcelona in terms of global profile, but they can raise their standing across the world. 

“Leveraging Saudi fan passion across the digital landscape together with the expansion to international markets through the signing of foreign players and more content beyond football can surely boost Saudi teams’ exposure in global markets,” Bove said. “A conscious exercise of branding and storytelling will become crucial to create more interest and trust both locally but especially globally, since football is shifting toward the industry of entertainment rather than sport. And, of course, success on the pitch is always important to attract fans and followers, as we tend to seek brands that genuinely inspire us.”

Bove added that signing big stars from countries such as Brazil helps increase awareness, but Kim Myung-won, a Seoul-based social media and communications expert, believes Asia should be a first port of call, especially as nations such as South Korea and Japan have a lot to learn from Saudi teams.

“Just follow the posts ahead of a game. A map of the world is posted with all the different times listed, which fans in different countries can watch,” said Myung-won. “It is simple but effective in showing that the club sees itself as an inclusive international brand. It is a call to action, too.”

Video content is also hugely important. Myung-won pointed to Al-Nassr’s welcome of South Korean international defender Kim Jin-su, who was signed at the end of August. 

The video opened overlooking the megacity of Seoul with Jin-su packing his bags in a hotel room and telling fans of his new club how much the move meant to him. 

“It was simply but beautifully done,” said Myung-won. “It showed a little of Jin-su and his homeland and immediately brought the player closer to fans. Signing a left-back from South Korea is not going to get fans too excited, but this video makes a difference.”

For too long, Myung-won says, the rest of Asia have either not known of the social media success of Al-Hilal, Al-Nassr and other teams in Saudi Arabia, or have not cared. That should change.

“Clubs here in Korea and Japan think that they can learn only from Europe, but officials should be flying to Saudi Arabia,” said Myung-won. 


Introducing Egypt’s biggest-ever delegation at the Olympics  

 With 134 athletes, Egypt has brought its biggest Olympic delegation to Tokyo this year. (AFP)
With 134 athletes, Egypt has brought its biggest Olympic delegation to Tokyo this year. (AFP)
Updated 26 July 2021

Introducing Egypt’s biggest-ever delegation at the Olympics  

 With 134 athletes, Egypt has brought its biggest Olympic delegation to Tokyo this year. (AFP)
  • Inspirational team includes teenage superstars and female icons

CAIRO: With 134 athletes, Egypt has brought its biggest Olympic delegation to Tokyo. They will be representing the country in 24 sports, the largest number of sports that Egypt has ever participated in.

Egypt is also being represented by its youngest athlete at the games in table tennis player Hana Godda, who is just 13.

Over the years, Egypt has accumulated a total of 32 Olympic medals, seven gold, 10 silver and 15 bronze.

Among the athletes representing Egypt in the games is modern pentathlete Haydy Morsy, whose dedication and hard work at only 21 have made her an inspiration to young girls all over the country.

“I am very happy to compete in Tokyo after the postponement for one year, Tokyo will be my third Olympic Games, after competing in Rio 2016, and the Youth Olympic Games in 2014 in China. I am very excited to represent my beloved country … and make everyone proud,” Morsy told Arab News.

Morsy was just 8 when she first started practicing sports, which initially started as a hobby.

Then, aged 13, she qualified for the 2014 Youth Olympic Games.

“In the beginning, I was just training with a team in a club, and just after two years, they asked me to join the national team … When you represent your country, you are at a different level where you have to work really hard to achieve your targets and dreams,” she added.

She explained that an Olympic medal has been her dream since she first started modern pentathlon.

“I want to be the first Egyptian female athlete in modern pentathlon to get an Olympic medal and make every Egyptian proud,” Morsy said.

Her life as an athlete is anything but relaxed. She dedicates her days to training and working towards her goals.  

“I wake up at around 6:00 a.m. to start my day with swimming training, and then I train every day for around six or seven hours. I know it sounds crazy, but I really love this sport, and always want to give it my all before I decide to retire,” she said.  

She qualified for the games after winning the 2019 African Championship before their postponement from 2020 to 2021.

“It was an unbelievable moment, I will never forget it, especially that the qualification was here in my hometown. And nothing is better than winning in front of your family and friends.

“I always look forward to achieving more and more as an athlete because I know one day I will stop and turn the page. I want to enjoy every single moment while playing the sport.”

Morsy is only one of many Egyptian athletes who have dedicated their lives to sport to represent their country in Tokyo.

But sadly, not all of the country’s athletes have been permitted to attend. 

Egyptian weightlifters will not compete in Tokyo after the International Weightlifting Federation banned the country after it was proven that its athletes were doping during the Youth African Games.

This ban includes Olympic medalists Sarah Samir and Mohamed Ihab, which will affect Egypt’s chances of breaking its previous record of five medals during a single edition of the competition.


Jordan claims silver, Egypt wins double bronze in Tokyo 2020 Taekwondo competition

Jordan claims silver, Egypt wins double bronze in Tokyo 2020 Taekwondo competition
Updated 26 July 2021

Jordan claims silver, Egypt wins double bronze in Tokyo 2020 Taekwondo competition

Jordan claims silver, Egypt wins double bronze in Tokyo 2020 Taekwondo competition
  • Saleh Elsharabaty fell at the final hurdle against Maksim Khramtcov 
  • Hedaya Wahba claimed her second Olympic medal after beating Paige McPherson of the US 17-6 in the Taekwondo women’s 67 kg competition

TOKYO: Saleh Elsharabaty fell just short of grabbing an Olympic gold for Jordan when he lost the Taekwondo men’s 80 kg final 20-9 to Maksim Khramtcov of the Russian Olympic Committee at the Makuhari Messe Hall in Tokyo.
Monday also proved to be a fruitful day for Egypt in the Japanese capital at the Taekwondo competition, with bronze medals won in both the women’s and men’s categories.
Hedaya Wahba claimed her second Olympic medal after beating Paige McPherson of the US 17-6 in the Taekwondo women’s 67 kg competition, having previously claimed a bronze in the 57 kg category at Rio 2016.


Shortly after she had confirmed her medal win, fellow Egyptian Seif Eissa defeated Richard Andre Ordemann of Norway in the Taekwondo men’s 80 kg bronze medal match with a score of 12-4.
Elsharabaty’s path to silver saw him beat Ordemann 5-4 in the round of 16, Achraf Mahboubi of Morocco 17-15 in the quarterfinal, and Nikita Rafalovich of Uzbekistan 13-11 in the semifinal.
In the final, he came up against a formidable opponent in Khramtcov, though his silver medal finish will no doubt be celebrated in Jordan.


Egypt, too, will be celebrating the achievements of its Taekwondo heroes.
Wahba, 28, beat Magda Wiet Henin of France 11-10 in the round of 16 and lost to Great Britain’s Lauren Williams in the quarterfinal. She won her repechage contest against Malia Paseka 19-0 to earn a shot at bronze.
The 23-year-old Eissa for his part beat Jack Marton of Australia 11-1 in the round of 16 and Simone Alessio of Italy 6-5 in the quarterfinal, before losing the semifinal 13-1 to Khramtcov.


Saudi sprinter Yasmine Al-Dabbagh dashing into the Kingdom’s history books with Tokyo 2020 debut

Saudi sprinter Yasmine Al-Dabbagh dashing into the Kingdom’s history books with Tokyo 2020 debut
Updated 26 July 2021

Saudi sprinter Yasmine Al-Dabbagh dashing into the Kingdom’s history books with Tokyo 2020 debut

Saudi sprinter Yasmine Al-Dabbagh dashing into the Kingdom’s history books with Tokyo 2020 debut
  • The 23-year-old from Jeddah will take part in the 100m race on Friday
  • “I am working hard on a daily basis to represent Saudi Arabia in the best way possible,” Al-Dabbagh said

TOKYO: Only a few weeks ago, Yasmine Al-Dabbagh was an unknown Saudi sprinter with big dreams.
On Friday night, the whole world got to see her face as she, alongside Saudi rower Husein Alireza, had the honor of carrying Saudi Arabia’s flag at the opening ceremony of Tokyo 2020.
For the 23-year-old, as for the rest of 33-strong Saudi Olympic delegation, there is no greater honor than representing her country.
“It means the world to me, especially being part of a diverse and expansive team representing so many different activities,” Al-Dabbagh told Arab News. “Everything from judo, to table tennis, rowing, karate, archery, weightlifting, swimming, shooting and football. The sports sector in Saudi Arabia has witnessed unprecedented growth and investment, thanks to Crown Prince (Mohammed bin Salman’s) Vision 2030. 
“As Saudi athletes, we are all proud of the important role sports plays in the country’s transformation. We have a great sporting ecosystem, that allows us to perform at the highest level and I can’t wait to go out on the track, to repay that faith by performing to the best of my ability.”


Al-Dabbagh will make her 100m Olympic debut at the Tokyo Olympic Stadium on Friday, July 30, but had things worked out differently earlier in her life, she could now have been taking part in a different sport.
“Ever since I can remember, sports has always been my passion,” Al-Dabbagh said. “When I was a student at Jeddah Knowledge School, I loved everything from basketball, swimming, volleyball and gymnastics. 
“Track and field held an especially exceptional place in my heart. It was running and the sound of my footsteps on the track that gave me a very specific feeling, and that feeling kept me coming back for more. It was a sense of being empowered, strong and self-confident.
“What also hooked me was that the challenge was on me,” she said. “As an individual sport, I love that you get out what you put in. It’s all on me. There is nowhere to hide. If I train well and put in the effort, I get the corresponding reward and absolutely love that feeling.”
Al-Dabbagh recalls that when she first started training, access to running facilities was a bit of a challenge, particularly for female athletes. This, she is proud to point out, is no longer the case.
“We are seeing massive investment across all sports in Saudi Arabia including women’s sports. The country is on the move with more people playing sports than ever before and personally I am extremely grateful (for) the support shown to me by so many, including Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, the Ministry of Sport, the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee and the Athletics Federation.”
At a time when female participation was still several years away from becoming widespread, and culturally more acceptable, across the Kingdom, she was lucky to have a family that believed in her unquestioningly.
“My family were and still are my biggest supporters and have always pushed me to pursue my dreams,” Al-Dabbagh said. “Whenever I felt doubtful or fearful, they were the ones who helped me overcome that. They always made sure that I knew that my dream of becoming an Olympian could one day be realized. I am so proud and humbled also, that the dream is now coming true.”
When vindication of her career path came, it could not have been from a more iconic source.
“My motto in life has always been to never give up,” she said. “As much of a cliché as that may sound, it genuinely helped me overcome many obstacles and fears to get to where I am today. I was told by one of my biggest idols, who is now my coach, Linford Christie, that I have the ability to make it to the Olympics. Ever since then, I have been working really hard to get to where I am today but this is only the start. As the saying goes, a journey of one thousand miles begins with one step. I consider this as a first step on a long journey to come, inshallah.”
Al-Dabbagh is particularly inspired by the American runner Allyson Felix, who has won a staggering 26 gold, eight silver and four bronze medals throughout her career. Six of those golds and three of the silvers were claimed in the Olympic Games, making her the first female runner in history to have that many gold medals for track and field. Fenix, who will also be at Tokyo 2020, will have a chance of breaking the world record of nine athletics gold medals held by her legendary compatriot, the sprinter Carl Lewis.
“The reason I admire Allyson so much is that in addition to her incredible success in sports, she is also a wife, mother, and founder of a brand that specializes in creating products for women by women,” said Al-Dabbagh. “The way she manages to balance different aspects of her life is an inspiration to myself and to many women all over the world.
“I would be amiss not to recognize our very own athletes at home,” she added. “In the runners department, Sarah Attar and Cariman Abu Al-Jadail, the equestrian Dilma Malhas and the swimmer Mariam Binladen.”
Al-Dabbagh only got the call to the Olympics three weeks before the start of Tokyo 2020.
“Earning a place at the Olympics means everything to me, and to do it through a ‘universality place’, breaking the national female record for the 100m race … I could not have asked for more,” she said. “It is a culmination of many hours of difficult training, spanning across Saudi Arabia, the US and the UK. I even remember my 12th birthday being Olympics-themed … that is how much I wanted to be an Olympian, and I am truly ecstatic that this moment has finally arrived.”
When she steps onto the track at the Olympic Stadium in the early hours of Friday, she will be up against some of the best runners in the world, but after the disruptions of the last year, it is an experience she is relishing.
“I know I’m very inexperienced compared to my running competitors, but I see this as a positive,” he said. “I inevitably will gain so many lessons from the opportunity to be in Tokyo, on which I can hopefully build my future as an athlete. Just when I had hoped to dedicate 100 percent to training and competing, COVID struck so I’ve missed a lot of track time and many chances to race. But with this, I can only look forward to the Olympics and future events.
“Our world has gone through a rough 18 months, and I can’t wait to see sports bring together people from all walks of life, from all over the globe. I want to make sure I savor that moment and that it will propel my sporting career forward.”
Al-Dabbagh is not setting any specific goals at this stage in her career, but the landmarks keep coming just the same.
“My target is to always perform to the best of my ability,” she said. “I am working hard on a daily basis to represent Saudi Arabia in the best way possible. I am hoping to raise the bar that previous Saudi Olympians have set and to inspire even more young Saudis to pursue their dreams. I am already the holder of the national (100m) record and I’d like to improve upon that, and come back a better athlete. At this stage in my career and with my experience, I really see the games as a building block for the future, both for me personally, but importantly for the future of sports in the Kingdom.” 


Kuwaiti shooter Abdullah Al-Rashidi wins Tokyo 2020 bronze medal in men’s skeet competition

Kuwaiti shooter Abdullah Al-Rashidi wins Tokyo 2020 bronze medal in men’s skeet competition
Updated 26 July 2021

Kuwaiti shooter Abdullah Al-Rashidi wins Tokyo 2020 bronze medal in men’s skeet competition

Kuwaiti shooter Abdullah Al-Rashidi wins Tokyo 2020 bronze medal in men’s skeet competition
  • It is the 47-year-old’s second bronze after finishing third at Rio 2016 as an Independent Olympic Athlete

The shooter Abdullah Al-Rashidi has won a bronze medal for Kuwait in the men’s skeet competition that concluded at Asaka Shooting Range on Monday morning.

The 57-year-old finished the competition’s final with a total of 46 points, third behind American Vincent Hancock whose new Olympic record of 59 saw him claim gold, and Jesper Hansen of Denmark who secured silver with 55.

This is Al-Rashidi’s second Olympic bronze, the first coming at Rio 2016 when he competed as an Independent Olympic Athlete.

He had previously taken part in five other games, finishing in 42nd position at Atlanta 1996, 14th at Sydney 2000, 9th at both Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008, and 21st at London 2012.

At Tokyo 2020’s men’s skeet qualification Day 1 on Sunday, Al-Rashidi finished joint sixth with three rounds of 25, 25, 24, for a total of 74 out of 75. The following morning, he followed that up with qualification Day 2 total score of 122 (25, 25, 24, 25, 23) to confirm progress to the final later in the day.


Sulaiman Hammad’s Olympic judo journey ends after defeat to Canadian opponent

Sulaiman Hammad’s Olympic judo journey ends after defeat to Canadian opponent
Updated 26 July 2021

Sulaiman Hammad’s Olympic judo journey ends after defeat to Canadian opponent

Sulaiman Hammad’s Olympic judo journey ends after defeat to Canadian opponent
  • The 27-year-old was taking part in his second games after Rio 2016

Sulaiman Hammad’s Tokyo 2020 campaign is over after he lost to Canadian Arthur Margelidon in his elimination round of 32 of the men’s judo 73 kg competition at Nippon Budokan arena in the Japanese capital.

The Saudi’s loss in the knockout format means he joins other Kingdom athletes, the weightlifter Siraj Al-Saleem and the shooter Saeed Al-Mutairi, in exiting the Olympics early, while rower Husein Alireza, who began his men’s single sculls competition on the opening day of the tournament, will be involved in tomorrow’s semifinal C/D, which allows him to improve his overall Olympic ranking.

The 27-year-old Hammad had two penalties called against him before Margelidon was awarded a waza-ari, the second highest score possible in judo, to win the contest and progress to round 16.

Hammad was returning for a second successive Olympics, having been part of the Saudi delegation for Rio 2016.

His first medal in the Kingdom’s colors came in 2011 when he won bronze at the Asian Judo Championship in the UAE. The year 2017 was particularly successful one for Hammad as he won bronze at the 2nd World Police Games in Abu Dhabi, finished 5th at the Asian Open in Taipei, and 7th at the Islamic Solidarity Games in Baku.

Earlier this year he reached the last 16 at the 2021 World Judo Championship in Budapest.