Australian Open forced to switch player quarantine hotel

Australian Open forced to switch player quarantine hotel
Above, Novak Djokovic during the men’s singles final match of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne early on Feb. 3, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 05 January 2021

Australian Open forced to switch player quarantine hotel

Australian Open forced to switch player quarantine hotel
  • Melbourne’s The Westin canceled plans to house tennis players during two weeks of quarantine ahead of the tournament

MELBOURNE: Australian Open organizers were forced to find new quarantine accommodation for players Tuesday after a hotel pulled out, reportedly because of concerns from residents.
Organizers of the year’s first tennis grand slam confirmed they had secured new hotel accommodation after Melbourne’s The Westin canceled plans to house tennis players during two weeks of quarantine ahead of the tournament.
“Several hotels in Melbourne have already been secured, including a replacement for the Westin, to safely accommodate the international playing group,” organizers said in a statement.
Local media reported that a legal threat from several permanent residents in the luxury hotel had scuppered the plan to host players there.
The news comes 10 days before the first players are expected to arrive in the city.
The start of the opening Grand Slam of 2021 has already been delayed until February 8, to allow players to undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine imposed on all overseas arrivals before taking part in a week of warm-up tournaments.
Melbourne only emerged from a months-long lockdown in October following a second wave of COVID-19, complicating planning for the Grand Slam.
Australia has largely contained the coronavirus, although fresh outbreaks in Sydney and Melbourne have forced authorities to reintroduce some restrictions, including state border closures.


Man City win 20th straight game to lead by 13 points

Man City win 20th straight game to lead by 13 points
Updated 28 February 2021

Man City win 20th straight game to lead by 13 points

Man City win 20th straight game to lead by 13 points
  • Guardiola’s side are unbeaten in 27 games and their run of 20 successive victories in all competitions is a record for an English top-flight side

MANCHESTER: Pep Guardiola rates Manchester City’s 20-game winning run as one of the greatest achievements of his glittering career.

City moved 13 points clear at the top of the Premier League with a hard-fought 2-1 victory over West Ham at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday.

Guardiola’s side are unbeaten in 27 games and their run of 20 successive victories in all competitions is a record for an English top-flight side.

The Spaniard has won 29 trophies as a manager with Barcelona, Bayern Munich and City, including consecutive Premier League titles in 2018 and 2019.

But Guardiola believes City’s remarkable winning streak this season, amid a pandemic and despite injuries to Sergio Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne, is up there with his finest moments.

“It is so difficult. Twenty in this period, in this era, with this situation around the world. To be able to do 20 is maybe one of the greatest achievements we have done together in our careers,” Guardiola said.

“That doesn’t mean we will win titles but we have not had one week’s rest in three months. A game every three days, with the Covid situation, injury situations — to make this winning run shows mental strength.”

City were not at their best against in-form West Ham, but Guardiola was delighted with the way they fought for the points.

“We didn’t paint something nice but there are many of these games during the season,” he said.

“It was obvious to every person who saw the game it was really tough. The opposition is incredible, well composed.

“So, a big compliment to West Ham. After 26 fixtures they were in the Champions League positions. They have everything.

“It was a really tough game but that is good for us for the coming games, to realize what is going to happen.”


Jaguar’s Sam Bird soars in second round of Diriyah E-Prix double-header

Sam Bird of Jaguar Racing won the second round of the Diriyah E-Prix double-header when a late safety car meant that the race was ended prematurely with a red flag. (Supplied)
Sam Bird of Jaguar Racing won the second round of the Diriyah E-Prix double-header when a late safety car meant that the race was ended prematurely with a red flag. (Supplied)
Updated 28 February 2021

Jaguar’s Sam Bird soars in second round of Diriyah E-Prix double-header

Sam Bird of Jaguar Racing won the second round of the Diriyah E-Prix double-header when a late safety car meant that the race was ended prematurely with a red flag. (Supplied)
  • Second Formula E night race ends prematurely after crash involving Maximilian Gunther and Alex Lynn

RIYADH: Sam Bird of Jaguar Racing won the second round of the Diriyah E-Prix double-header when a late safety car meant that the race was ended prematurely with a red flag, with the British driver leading Robin Frijns of Envision Virgin Racing and Jean-Eric Vergne of DS Techeetah behind him.

In the presence of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, it was Diriyah’s second race under the floodlights to conclude the opening weekend of the 2020-21 Formula E season.

With 25 points Bird is now four points behind Friday’s winner, Nyck de Vries of Mercedes-Benz EQ. Jaguar Racing also lead the Team Championship, seven points ahead of Mercedes.

“I was a bit emotional in the car,” Bird, who has now won races in every one of Formula E’s seven seasons, said.

 

 

“Big move, big step for me leaving what was my family at Envision, they were great to me for six years, joining a new team, but they welcomed me with open arms. I didn’t know what to expect at the beginning, but I’ve come to a fantastic team, great bunch of guys. They’re already my family, I’m just so happy that I could give them a result today.”

It was Bird’s first win with Jaguar Racing and 10th in Formula E, and he revealed that the race was not as simple as it may have seemed. 

“I have to say that Robin was so respectful, a pleasure to race against really,” he said. “Just what you’re expect from a man of his caliber. And it was great fun.”

The runner-up was disappointed that some tactical decisions did not work out, but was still pleased with the overall outcome.

“We had a great battle going on, but unfortunately me taking attack mode just before the full course yellow didn’t help at the end,” Frijns said. “It’s the kind of gamble you take in racing, but (finishing) eventually on the podium in P2 after such a difficult day yesterday, I’d definitely sign up for that.”

The day started in dramatic fashion when the previous day’s runner-up, Edoardo Mortara of RokiT Venturi Racing, was involved in a serious accident after his throttle locked and he lost the use of his brakes. After crashing into a barrier he was taken to hospital where he underwent scans.

Thankfully, the Swiss driver was well enough to return to the Diriyah circuit, but in the end had to sit the race out.

“I’m grateful it was not more serious,” Mortara said.

“It was not a great feeling, it’s a feeling that I’d like to forget,” he added. “I felt a little bit like a passenger, there was nothing I could do, no brakes any more and I just went into the wall. I thought that was pretty much the end of for me. Not a nice feeling.”

Frijns, having started 17th from the grid on day one, was in pole position with Sergio Sette Camara (Dragon/Penske Autosport) in second. Bird, who had collided with Alex Lynn on Friday, and Tom Blomqvist of NIO 333 Formula E Team were third and fourth in row two.

For the viewers, it provided extra excitement, with most of the favorites, and leading finishers from the first race relegated to the back of the grid.

Sette Camara’s poor start allowed Bird to overtake on the first turn, and as the race’s 45 minutes (plus one lap) ticked down the front two started to pull away from the chasing pack.

By lap eight Bird was only 0.500 sec behind Frijns, with a gap of over two seconds behind the Briton. Within two laps, Bird was leading, but by activating his attack mode, Frijns regained the lead on lap 14.

Halfway through the race Jean-Eric Vergne of DS Techeetah, moved into third place with eyes on challenging the front two, but a Full Course Yellow (FCY), rather than a safety car, meant that he could not make up the four-second difference between him and Bird.

A battle was developing in third and fourth when reigning champion Antonio Felix da Costa almost collided with team-mate Vergne, allowing Frijns and Bird — themselves exchanging the lead several times — to maintain their lead with 15 minutes left.

But with 28 laps gone and over eight minutes left, the first safety car of the day came out after Maximilian Gunther (BMW i Andretti Motorsport) crashed into Alex Lynn, and in doing so wiped away the gaps. 

There would be no restart and the race was ended with Bird in the lead, and Frijns, Vergne and da Costa behind him.

After the previous day’s drama, it was an underwhelming end to the opening weekend of the Formula E season.

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Al-Shabab president Al-Baltan hit with two-month ban for his part in racism row

Al-Shabab president Al-Baltan hit with two-month ban for his part in racism row
Updated 27 February 2021

Al-Shabab president Al-Baltan hit with two-month ban for his part in racism row

Al-Shabab president Al-Baltan hit with two-month ban for his part in racism row
  • Al-Baltan also fined $10,660 after dispute with Al-Nassr president Safwan Al-Suwaiket

LONDON: While all is going well for Al-Shabab at the top of the Saudi Pro League, the club have been hit by twin bans following a racism row that erupted at a Feb.13 clash with Al-Nassr and shows little sign of stopping.

On Friday, the Saudi Arabia Football Federation’s (SAFF) Discipline and Ethics Committee issued club President Khaled Al-Baltan with a ban from all sporting activity for two months and a $10,660 fine for his role in an altercation with Al Nassr’s Hussein Abdulghani during a league meeting between the two Riyadh teams that ended 4-0 to Al-Shabab.

While Al-Shabab refused to comment when contacted by Arab News, Al-Nassr president, Safwan Al-Suwaiket quickly made his displeasure known on Friday, complaining that the penalties given to Al-Shabab were too light.

“Verbal abuse, insults, slander and public defamation, damaging personal reputation, inciting public opinion and insulting Saudi sport and in the end a very light penalty,” he wrote on social media, also suggesting that the club may take the matter to the courts.

Reports in Saudi Arabia suggest that Al-Suwaiket could face punishment for his comments as the fallout from the incident looks set to drag on.

The original issue started near the end of the league clash earlier this month.

As the team's Brazilian winger Sebastian Junior was being substituted, an animated Abdulghani could be seen shouting and making gestures at the player, known as ‘Seba’ to go away and the two had to be separated by officials.

While it is unclear what Abdulghani said - the legend of Saudi Arabian football with over 130 international appearances was wearing a mask - as he gesticulates towards the Brazilian, up in the mostly empty stands, television footage showed Al-Baltan shouting, “This is Saudi Arabia, we don’t call people monkeys in this country. Shame on you.”

Al-Nassr quickly released a statement denying that any racist comments had been made.

“We stand behind our executive manager, Hussein Abdulghani, in the face of these false allegations,” the club said.

The match report backed up Al-Nassr’s account according to SAFF despite the evidence given from Al-Shabab players and officials at the hearing. “The report received by the committee from match referee Turki Al-Khudair, and the match observer did not include a recording of a racist utterance from Hussein Abdulghani against Seba,” SAFF said.

Al-Baltan was punished for the language used towards an official from another team and will now miss a vital period in the season as Al-Shabab, five points clear at the top, look to win a first title since 2012.

While Abdulghani was cleared of racism, he also received a ban and a fine for his part in the melee.

To make matters worse for Al-Shabab, Seba was also banned for two games and fined $53,000 for his comments on social media that were seen by the committee, as stirring up public opinion. Al-Shabab were also fined the same amount.

Al-Shabab can take another step towards the championship on Sunday as they travel to take on lowly Damac while Al-Hilal in second take on Al-Fateh.


Arabian Gulf League’s most intriguing season turns Al-Jazira’s way after top-of-the-table win

Arabian Gulf League’s most intriguing season turns Al-Jazira’s way after top-of-the-table win
Updated 27 February 2021

Arabian Gulf League’s most intriguing season turns Al-Jazira’s way after top-of-the-table win

Arabian Gulf League’s most intriguing season turns Al-Jazira’s way after top-of-the-table win
  • A 3-0 loss adds to Sharjah’s woes as Baniyas keep the pressure on in UAE’s heated title race

A few weeks from now, one team will celebrate a historic Arabian Gulf League title. Dates for the final five matchweeks of the remaining eight are yet to be announced, but whenever and wherever the coveted trophy will be lifted, the winning side will look back at the night of Friday, Feb. 26 as one that has reshaped their 2020-21 campaign.

For now, it’s Al-Jazira who are smiling.

First, there is Sharjah’s woes. Despite hitherto leading the table, the reigning champions have looked a shadow of the side that took the UAE by storm to win their first league title in a quarter of a century in 2018-19. The subsequent season was declared null and void, disrupted by the pandemic, keeping the trophy in Sharjah for a further 12 months.

Mastermind Abdulaziz Al-Anbari remains at the helm. A local lad who had pulled the strings in midfield as Sharjah won the 1995-96 title, he returned as manager two decades later to transform a mid-table squad into the most potent counter-attacking unit in the country and become the first man to win the UAE league title as a player and as a manager.

Less than two years on, he was left to watch his legacy crumble in a game he missed through illness. A 3-0 demolition at home by Al-Jazira on Friday made it five games without a win for Al-Anbari’s Sharjah, his side’s poor run culminating in the loss of the top spot that they had made effectively theirs since the beginning of the season.

Momentum cannot be created nor destroyed, but only changed through the action of forces. Isaac Newton might as well have been talking about the 2020-21 Arabian Gulf League title race. For that every bit of momentum lost by Sharjah was picked up by their Friday visitors Al-Jazira.

They may not have been present in the stands on a night to remember for the Pride of Abu Dhabi at Sharjah Stadium, but the Al-Jazira faithful were indeed the most vocal on social media as they felt the tide turning to their side in the pursuit for glory.

The stars finally aligned for manager Marcel Keizer. Young defender Mohammed Rabi powered in an early header for his first senior goal. The Dutchman’s high-press system saw his compatriot Brandley Kuwas, a January recruit from Al-Nasr, win the ball deep into the opposition half and supply talisman Ali Mabkhout who made it 2-0 before the break.

Not even a red card for midfielder Abdullah Ramadan could stop Al-Jazira’s rampant display, and the top spot was signed, sealed and delivered to the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium as Mabkhout slotted home from the spot in added time for his 17th goal of the season.

By all measures, Friday night was telling of the two clubs and their contrasting trajectories. For every time Sharjah’s Caio Lucas and Saif Rashid attempted an outrageous skill only to lose the ball in their own half, there was a spell of swift, intricate passing and coordinated pressing by Al-Jazira’s well-drilled midfield. For every moment of frustrated Igor Coronado solo runs, there was a sharp exchange of positions by Mabkhout and his protege-turned-teammate Zayed Al Ameri.

Then there are the Sky Blues of Baniyas: Quietly going about their business as they have done all season, and in the process creeping into the title conversation with their 36 points placing them at third, just four behind Al-Jazira.

A decade has passed since their best league campaign; a season in which they finished runners-up behind none other than Al-Jazira. Countless managers and foreign players have passed through the revolving door at Al-Shamkha Stadium on the outskirts of the capital Abu Dhabi. There has been relegation then instant promotion, a new ambitious project and finally a season where they flew under the radar, appearing almost out of nowhere to book a place on the table for a game of cards for which they looked the unlikeliest of invitees.

On Friday, Baniyas made light work of relegation strugglers Ajman. Young Palestinian forward Ahmed Abunamous put them in front before Brazilian marksman Joao Pedro kept the pressure on Mabkhout at the top of the scoring charts with his fourteenth goal of the season to secure a third Baniyas win in their last four games.

An extended winning run, as well as other results going their way, could yet see Al-Nasr — leaders earlier in the season but fourth-placed now — make their way into the title charge.

They sit seven points adrift of the top, but realistically it will not be until after the matchweek 23 clash between Sharjah and Baniyas, four games before the curtain falls on the season, that we will have a much clearer picture of who the next champions of the UAE will be in a season where the traditional powerhouses of Al-Ain, Shabab Al-Ahli and Al-Wahda were brushed aside by a brave new contingent of competitors.


The streets of Riyadh to light-up again for race two of the Diriyah E-Prix

The streets of Riyadh to light-up again for race two of the Diriyah E-Prix
Updated 27 February 2021

The streets of Riyadh to light-up again for race two of the Diriyah E-Prix

The streets of Riyadh to light-up again for race two of the Diriyah E-Prix
  • 24 drivers ready to battle again after Dutchman Nyck de Vries won Formula E’s first ever night race

RIYADH: Formula E returns to Riyadh later today for the second leg of the Diriyah-E-Prix double-header in the opening round of season 7, following an electric opening race last night which saw a maiden victory for Mercedes-EQ driver Nyck de Vries.

Completing the podium, Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al Faisal, Chairman of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation, was Edoardo Mortara of ROCKiT Venturi Racing, who finished second, and Jaguar Racing’s Mitch Evans in third.

“What an incredible race. Once again Diriyah has made sporting history with another ‘first’ and I’m so pleased Saudi Arabia has proudly opened this wonderful series to start Season 7,” said Prince Khalid.

“It’s a championship that aligns so perfectly with our future vision and commitment to sustainability as a nation. You can tell the drivers love the track and I’ve no doubt millions around the world have been thoroughly entertained.”

Speaking of his podium finish, Mortara revealed the risk in overtaking Pascal Wehrlein of TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team.

“When I am in the car doing these moves my heart stops,” the Swiss driver said.

“Wehrlein moved at the last minute so I had to go on the left as I was quite surprised. It was the key moment of the race and I was really happy to survive the chaos and finish second. It's exciting.”

He also spoke of his third experience of the Diriyah track at the world UNESCO heritage site.

“You can see that the organizers have put in a lot of time to get the track ready and it’s a pleasure coming to race in an historical place like Diriyah,” Mortara added.

“The effort they’ve put in to host the first ever night race is amazing.”

Once again, 24 drivers from 12 teams will take to the track this evening, and while race two, like the first one, will also be held without spectators, fans still can still catch the action live on KSA Sports TV or the channel’s Twitter page @riyadiyatv.

“Due to COVID we have all faced many challenges over the last year.,” Prince Khalid added.

“There have been dark moments and many felt staging the race would be impossible. But tonight, the light has shone bright and it is clear, the Kingdom is not slowing down. It is a sign of hope and a positive step forward that shows what can be achieved if we work together to overcome all obstacles.”

The Diriyah E-Prix signifies a significant milestone in the history of Formula E while building on Saudi Arabia’s continued momentum in hosting motorsport competitions.

Despite the challenges of COVID, 2021is set to see the country host four FIA sanctioned events.

Following the season opener for Formula E this weekend, April will see the first ever Extreme E race take to the breathtaking Al Ula, before the country plays host to its inaugural Formula 1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in early December.

Then finally closing out the year with the return of Formula E Season 8.