Six major sporting events to look forward to in 2021

Six major sporting events to look forward to in 2021
A woman wearing a protective face mask, following an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), walks past the Olympic rings in front of the Japan Olympics Museum in Tokyo, Japan March 13, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 03 January 2021

Six major sporting events to look forward to in 2021

Six major sporting events to look forward to in 2021
  • Fans can look forward to MMA, Formula 1 and football

Dubai: Six major sporting events to look forward to in 2021, here's a list of them below: 

Fight Island 3 launches New Year in Abu Dhabi

UFC Fight Island 3 is coming back to Abu Dhabi at the start of 2021, to the delight of mixed martial arts fans around the world. When the UAE capital hosted Fight Island last July it was the first international sporting event of that stature to take place since the coronavirus outbreak.

Safety measures were put in place at Yas Island to ensure the health of the competitors, their teams, volunteers and management staff, and the event proved a massive success.

Fight Island 2 followed in September and October and saw UFC legend Khabib Nurmagomedov stop Justin Gaethje in the second round to successfully defend his lightweight belt at UFC 254, before retiring in front of the watching worldwide audience.

Dana White and UFC had promised more was to come in Abu Dhabi and they have delivered with announcement that Fight Island 3 will take place on Jan. 16, 20 and 24, when Conor McGregor takes on Dustin Poirier at UFC 257.


The Saudi Cup is back and bigger

Few of those watching Maximum Security romp home to win the inaugural Saudi Cup on Feb. 29, 2020, could have imagined that sporting activities and indeed everyday life would come to a shuddering halt within weeks. 

The Saudi Cup is returning for its second edition on Feb. 20, with a total purse of $30.5 million.

Last year’s race, which had a total purse of $20 million, took place at King Abdulaziz Racetrack and had already overtaken the Dubai World Cup as the world’s richest in horse racing. The two-day event also saw the historic participation of female jockeys on Saudi soil for the first time.

It was the first of several competitions in 2020 that would see the participation of female athletes in the Kingdom, including the Women’s Football League across Jeddah, Riyadh and Dammam, and the Aramco Saudi Ladies International at the Royal Greens Golf and Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City.

Many of the winning female jockeys said the real victory would come when their mere participation was no longer headline news. 


Competitive international football returns to the Middle East

Unlike Europe, South America and Africa, Asia did not see competitive international action last year owing to the disruption brought on by the pandemic.

While domestic and continental club competitions eventually returned during the summer of 2020,  national teams from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) were reduced to playing a handful of friendly matches.

With the 2023 AFC Asian Cup and 2022 World Cup places still to be decided, fans will be eager to once again unfurl their nations’ flags as meaningful international football returns in March.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE in particular will be hoping for a brighter year after the many upheavals brought on by the managerial changes of 2020.


Euro 2020 kicks off in 2021

2020 was the first even-numbered year in over six decades not to feature a World Cup or a European Championship, with the pandemic bringing all football competitions to a halt.

Euro 2020 will now kick off on June 11. The semi-finals and final, however, are scheduled for Wembley Stadium, so it is hoped that London will be safe and ready to welcome the continent’s best four teams when the time arrives.

And, just like the Tokyo Summer Olympics, questions will be asked in the coming months about the possibility of fans attending.


The Tokyo Olympics back on track

Just how the Olympics will look on July 23 - and exactly how many nations and athletes take part - remains to be seen. But the organizers of the Tokyo games have already said that there is no going back now.

They will need to recover a lot of goodwill if they are to reassure the countries taking part. 

The games were originally scheduled for last July and were belatedly pushed back by a year after withdrawals from Australia and Britain, and with many other delegations expressing their fears over safety.

The organizers eventually relented and postponed, but not before attracting much criticism. 

The delay will have wreaked havoc on the training programs of many athletes, who would have prepared meticulously over four years to peak just in time for the Olympics.

The hope is that, by the second half of the year, vaccination programs around the world will have been rolled out in adequate numbers to make travel to Japan, and all the safety measures that come with it, a feasible undertaking.

An Olympics without fans will just not be the same.


Formula 1 comes to Saudi Arabia

This November will see Saudi Arabia host its first-ever Formula 1 Grand Prix. 

The Jeddah race, on Nov. 5, will be only the second after the Singapore Grand Prix to take place at night, and the third Middle Eastern one after the Bahrain and Abu Dhabi races.

Saudi Arabia has already hosted two Formula E events over the last two years, but this will be an even higher-profile addition to the motorsports calendar around the world, and not just the region.

The timing of the race should hopefully ensure that the driver and constructor championships are still up for grabs.

Man Utd get better of Liverpool in five-goal thriller

Man Utd get better of Liverpool in five-goal thriller
Updated 25 January 2021

Man Utd get better of Liverpool in five-goal thriller

Man Utd get better of Liverpool in five-goal thriller
  • The English champions lost a league game at Anfield for the first time

MANCHESTER, United Kingdom: Bruno Fernandes’s stunning free-kick inflicted more misery on Liverpool as Manchester United progressed to the fifth round of the FA Cup with a thrilling 3-2 win at Old Tafford on Sunday.

Both sides struggled to create chances in a cagey 0-0 draw when they met in the Premier League last weekend.

But there was no repeat of that caution in a wide-open contest that ended Liverpool’s hopes of a first domestic cup win under Jurgen Klopp for another season.

The English champions lost a league game at Anfield for the first time in nearly four years to Burnley on Thursday to fall six points behind United at the top of the table.

In response, Klopp named a strong side despite making five changes as Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino returned.

Liverpool’s only goals in their previous five games came against an Aston Villa youth team in the last round of the FA Cup after Dean Smith’s side were struck down by a coronavirus outbreak.

But shades of the side that stormed to a first league title in 30 years last season were restored even if Klopp’s wait for a first win at Old Trafford goes on.

Firmino and Salah combined perfectly for the opener on 18 minutes as the Brazilian’s pass opened up the United defense and the Egyptian provided a dinked finish over Dean Henderson.

United have made a habit of coming from behind to win this season and took just eight minutes to hit back.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer handed Fernandes a rare rest from the start, but still picked a side packed with firepower featuring Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood, Edinson Cavani and Paul Pogba.

Rashford’s raking cross-field pass just evaded James Milner and Greenwood did not look like a striker lacking confidence as he fired past Alisson Becker for his first goal in 11 games.

A number of injuries to center-backs have disrupted Liverpool’s season with Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez expected to miss the rest of the season, while Joel Matip has struggled to stay fit.

Klopp has been forced to field two midfielders in Jordan Henderson and Fabinho together at the heart of the defense in recent weeks and the performance of 19-year-old Rhys Williams showed why the German has been reluctant to rely on his young center-backs.

Williams failed to cut out Greenwood’s through ball for Rashford three minutes into the second half and the England international composed himself before slotting past the advancing Alisson.

This time, United’s momentum was short-lived as Milner should have levelled for Liverpool when he spooned a glorious chance over from close range, but quickly made amends by teeing up Salah to smash home his second just before the hour mark.

Both managers turned to their match winners off the bench for the final half-hour as Klopp first turned to Sadio Mane before Fernandes made his entrance.

Trent Alexander-Arnold stung the palms of Henderson, who then saved twice from Salah as Liverpool’s attack began to click back into gear.

But it was Fernandes who won the game with a brilliant free-kick 12 minutes from time.

This week will be the first anniversary of the Portuguese’s arrival from Sporting Lisbon that has transformed United’s fortunes.

A year ago, United trailed Liverpool by 30 points in the Premier League having played two games more.

The past seven days have shown they are now more than a match for their old rivals.

Fernandes’s strike was a worthy winner of a thrilling tie as he used Pogba to unsight Alisson and fired the ball low into the Brazilian’s left-hand corner.

United will face West Ham in the last 16 next month.