Amr Zedan is revolutionizing the equestrian landscape in Saudi Arabia

Amr Zedan is the chairman of the Saudi Polo Federation, a board member of the Saudi Arabian Equestrian Federation and the owner of Zedan Racing Stables in Kentucky, US. (Supplied)
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Amr Zedan is the chairman of the Saudi Polo Federation, a board member of the Saudi Arabian Equestrian Federation and the owner of Zedan Racing Stables in Kentucky, US. (Supplied)
Amr Zedan is the chairman of the Saudi Polo Federation, a board member of the Saudi Arabian Equestrian Federation and the owner of Zedan Racing Stables in Kentucky, US. (Supplied)
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Amr Zedan is the chairman of the Saudi Polo Federation, a board member of the Saudi Arabian Equestrian Federation and the owner of Zedan Racing Stables in Kentucky, US. (Supplied)
Amr Zedan is the chairman of the Saudi Polo Federation, a board member of the Saudi Arabian Equestrian Federation and the owner of Zedan Racing Stables in Kentucky, US. (Supplied)
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Amr Zedan is the chairman of the Saudi Polo Federation, a board member of the Saudi Arabian Equestrian Federation and the owner of Zedan Racing Stables in Kentucky, US. (Supplied)
Amr Zedan, the chairman of the Saudi Polo Federation, with the Zedan Polo team in the Dubai Golden Cup series, 2021. (Supplied)
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Amr Zedan, the chairman of the Saudi Polo Federation, with the Zedan Polo team in the Dubai Golden Cup series, 2021. (Supplied)
Amr Zedan is the chairman of the Saudi Polo Federation, a board member of the Saudi Arabian Equestrian Federation and the owner of Zedan Racing Stables in Kentucky, US. (Supplied)
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Amr Zedan is the chairman of the Saudi Polo Federation, a board member of the Saudi Arabian Equestrian Federation and the owner of Zedan Racing Stables in Kentucky, US. (Supplied)
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Updated 05 February 2021

Amr Zedan is revolutionizing the equestrian landscape in Saudi Arabia

Amr Zedan is the chairman of the Saudi Polo Federation, a board member of the Saudi Arabian Equestrian Federation and the owner of Zedan Racing Stables in Kentucky, US. (Supplied)
  • Riyadh-based Zedan is chairman of Saudi Polo Federation, board member of Saudi Equestrian Authority and owner of Zedan Racing Stables in Kentucky

DUBAI: Amr Zedan’s love affair with all things equestrian has many, eclectic fathers.

“When I was young, I always loved sports in general, and I always loved horses as well,” he said. “I was exposed to various sports, and polo was one of the sports I gravitated toward because it combined the ball and the horse. I watched a few movies that featured polo. ‘Pretty Woman’ was one of those movies, and I was captivated by it when I was a kid. I picked up the sport in the late 90s and early 2000s in Dubai and London, and the rest was history.”

Today, Zedan is the chairman of the Saudi Polo Federation, a board member of the Saudi Equestrian Authority and the owner of Zedan Racing Stables in Kentucky, US.

He also owns and runs Zedan Polo, a team he is currently representing at the Silver Cup in Dubai and in the forthcoming Gold Cup.

“We like to say that we want to reintroduce polo in Saudi Arabia, not introduce it, because polo has been played here for the past 50 or 60 years, although not widely,” said Zedan, who is based in the Kingdom, his native country.

“Our mandate, as part of the Saudi Polo Federation, is to promote, develop and regulate the sport in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. So, any initiative that would satisfy any of those three missions, we will support. We have a dynamic board, and we are supported by the government unconditionally.”




Amr Zedan, the chairman of the Saudi Polo Federation, with the Zedan Polo team in the Dubai Golden Cup series, 2021. (Supplied)

He calls the 2020 AlUla Desert Polo, the world’s first tournament of its kind, “the first appetizer,” and credits its success to Prince Bader Al-Farhan, the minister of culture and governor of AlUla, not to mention the star power of the La Dolfina Polo Team and the stunning Saudi landscape.

At a grassroots level, Zedan is keen to go against misconceptions and prove that polo can be accessible.

“Polo has the stigma of being an elitist sport, and in many respects it is because of the cost that goes into playing professionally and safely at the same time,” he said.

“Our role is to bridge that gap and make it affordable and available for Saudi boys and girls alike because polo allows both boys and girls to compete on equal footing. Boys and girls, men and women can compete at the same level and same rankings.”

Zedan cites Winston Churchill’s famous quote that “a polo handicap is a person’s ticket to the world” and says he wants to harness such credentials to attract more funding and sponsorship to the sport.

“Polo has the ability to gain corporate social responsibility from companies that have adopted the sport as one of their main pillars,” he said.

“So, we entice companies such as car manufacturers or luxury-goods makers to sponsor some of the events, and that would bridge the gap, cover the costs and make polo affordable for newcomers. And it’s a bug: If you catch it, you’re addicted, and if you’re addicted, you play it.”

READ MORE: Face Of - Amr Zedan, chairman of Saudi Polo Federation

As with most sporting events, polo competitions suffered, and continue to suffer, massive disruptions due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, but Zedan is already busy planning for the future.

“We have plans for January 2022 for AlUla, and we are in close contact with the Royal Commission of AlUla. That’s something we are constantly engaged in,” he said.

“More importantly, we have plans in Riyadh. We are working with the Diriyah Gate Development Authority through Jerry Inzerillo, who is the CEO, and we are looking for a spot for a new project called the Royal Diriyah Polo and Equestrian Club. That will have the flagship polo ground in Saudi Arabia, in the heart of Riyadh.”

As well as official games and competitions, the new headquarters will host exhibition games, and Zedan said that there is already real interest from several dignitaries and heads of states to come and play in Saudi Arabia.

Due to his polo commitments, Zedan will be unable to attend the 2021 Saudi Cup, the second edition of the world’s richest horse race, but he credits Prince Bandar bin Khalid Al-Faisal for “reshaping the thoroughbred racing space in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.” He added that he is proud to be involved in the development of racing in Saudi Arabia.

“I’ve always been fascinated with horses, so it was just a natural progression,” Zedan said.

“I do have my stables, Zedan Racing, based in Kentucky in the US, and my trainer is the Hall of Fame, six-time Kentucky Derby winner and two-time Triple Crown winner Bob Baffert. Bob needs no introduction, so I’m very privileged to work with him. We have a couple of horses that have been successful and a few that we hope will be successful, one of which was is a filly, Princess Nour, who just retired due to injury.

“And we have a promising 3-year-old colt. I know it’s a long shot, but my dream is to see him in the Kentucky Derby,” he added.

“My dream is to win the Derby some day, if not this year then next year. We keep trying. That is the mission of Zedan Racing Stables, which is strictly a US-based operation.”




Amr Zedan is the chairman of the Saudi Polo Federation, a board member of the Saudi Arabian Equestrian Federation and the owner of Zedan Racing Stables in Kentucky, US. (Supplied)

Despite his state-side operation, Zedan also keeps a keen eye on the races in the Middle East, which has some of the sport’s biggest prize purses.

“These big races are amazing,” he said. “I was a partner in a horse in 2016 that won the Dubai World Cup, and I was on the podium, and that’s when I caught the bug. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to make the Saudi Cup because I have prior commitments here with polo.”

Zedan says the Saudi Cup will put the Kingdom on the map when it comes to racing and believes the climate and landscape will play a big part in doing that.

“It’s reinventing the way racing is done from a regional perspective, and internationally as well,” he said.

“Saudi Arabia is very unique in many ways. We don’t have a single season. We have Taif, for instance, where the weather is very pleasant during the summer, so we can have racing meetings there during the off-season. Then we have the on-season, which is the winter-spring. So Saudi Arabia is very unique in that regard, and I know that the Saudi Equestrian Authority has ambitious plans to create a full-on ecosystem to develop equestrian sports in general and racing in particular.”

If it involves horses, then Zedan is sure to be part of it.


Saudi football fans set for stadium return at SPL clash between Al-Hilal and Al-Ahli

Saudi football fans set for stadium return at SPL clash between Al-Hilal and Al-Ahli
Updated 18 May 2021

Saudi football fans set for stadium return at SPL clash between Al-Hilal and Al-Ahli

Saudi football fans set for stadium return at SPL clash between Al-Hilal and Al-Ahli
  • Supporters can attend last three rounds of the season at 40 percent capacity

JEDDAH: When Al-Hilal and Al-Ahli from Jeddah meet tomorrow night at the Prince Faisal bin Fahad stadium in Riyadh in the 28th round of Saudi Professional League (SPL), it will mark the first presence of a live audience at a football stadium since the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

The Saudi Ministry of Sports announced on March 29 that it had given the green light for the return of a limited number of fans to SPL football matches, with strict health and security measures still in place. 

The last time spectators in the Kingdom were allowed inside a football stadium was March 7, 2020, just as the COVID-19 crisis was about to disrupt almost all sporting activities and competitions across the globe.

Now, returning fans will be given 40 percent of the ground’s capacity in assigned, socially distanced seats.

According to the ministry’s decision, fans are expected to be able to attend the last three rounds of the current SPL season, with Al-Hilal leading the table by four points from Al-Shabab and the remaining relegation spots still to be decided.

The ministry specified that the protocols allowing certain categories to attend will be in accordance with the individual’s Tawakkalna application status.

Those who have received either one or two vaccine doses or who have recovered from the virus will be allowed in, while fans under the age of 18 are required to only show their “non-infected” or “non-contacted” status on the Tawakalna app.

Tickets for the last three rounds of matches will be posted on the Saudi Tickets platform, and fans will be able to get their specifically numbered ticket online. Tickets will be provided by the hosting club.

Tickets for the game between Al-Hilal and Al-Ahli were reportedly sold out within minutes of going on sale.

Al-Hilal currently leads the standing in the SPL with 51 points gained from 27 games, followed by Al-Shabab with 48 points. Al-Taawoun and Al-Ittihad are fighting it out for third place with 47 points each.


Extreme E leaders look back on AlUla race ahead of Ocean X Prix in Senegal

Extreme E leaders look back on AlUla race ahead of Ocean X Prix in Senegal
Updated 18 May 2021

Extreme E leaders look back on AlUla race ahead of Ocean X Prix in Senegal

Extreme E leaders look back on AlUla race ahead of Ocean X Prix in Senegal
  • First-ever electric SUV event across Saudi Desert saw RXR lead the standings, followed by X44 and Andretti United

The very first Extreme E event in the Saudi Arabian deserts of AlUla just six weeks ago saw Rosberg X Racing (RXR) take both the race victory and the lead in the overall standings, to currently sit pretty at the top of the table on 35 points.

Although Lewis Hamilton’s X44 crossed the finish line in third, they currently occupy second in the overall table on 30 points after amassing more points in qualifying than Andretti United, who eventually finished second in the Final and are now in third place with 28 points.

With just seven points separating them, the trio of table-toppers is now in the final stages of preparations for the upcoming Ocean X Prix at Lac Rose, Dakar, Senegal, from May 29-30.

“To take victory in the first-ever Extreme E event was an amazing achievement,” Molly Taylor, half of RXR’s pairing, said. “Everyone in the team had worked so hard in the build-up to the event, so for me and Johan [Kristoffersson] to repay them all with the victory felt so special. The beauty of Extreme E is the extra buzz you get from racing for purpose, too, and it’s an even better feeling when you win for purpose.”

The team has spent the last few weeks analyzing the data taken from the dunes in Saudi Arabia with a view to preparing for the second X Prix in Senegal, where RXR will attempt to make another win.

“Senegal will be a brand new challenge for everyone, but that’s one of the greatest things about Extreme E: Every event is so unique,” said Taylor’s RXR teammate, Kristoffersson. “Despite the differences, we’ll do our best to improve on our performance in AlUla and aim to be competitive once again.”

Team founder and former Formula 1 champion Nico Rosberg was cautious about maintaining the lead in Senegal.

“The team did an incredible job in Saudi Arabia to get the win, and we’re very proud to be the first X Prix winners in Extreme E history, but we know we need to stay focused if we are to remain at the front,” he said. “The series is already so competitive, but this team loves a challenge, and we can’t wait to go racing again in Senegal.”

X44 driver pairing Cristina Gutiérrez and Sébastien Loeb also had a successful weekend in Saudi Arabia, topping the qualifying standings and heading straight through to Semi-Final 1, and with a second-place finish, progressing to the Final. The team is now aiming for victory in Senegal.

“I’m looking forward to racing again in Senegal with Cristina. In the last race, obviously, there were things that didn’t go our way, but we showed that we’re a very competitive team and that we’re able to get results under pressure,” said Loeb. “The Ocean X Prix will be a totally new terrain and we have an incredible group of people working with us, so I’m excited to go to Senegal and fight again for a win.”

The team has been particularly focused on the all-important start, which proved vital for the final race position at the Desert X Prix. Senegal, however, poses a very different challenge.

“I’m really excited to get back in the car and race again in Senegal. Obviously, the final race in Saudi didn’t go exactly as planned but we got a great result overall, and it put us in a good position in the championship,” Gutiérrez said. “We learned a lot from the last race, and we’re going to take those learnings and make sure that we’re as competitive as possible.”

Meanwhile, Andretti United’s Catie Munnings proved herself to be one to watch following her epic three-wheel drive after suffering a puncture. Her strength and determination saw her bring the car home in one piece.

“Saudi Arabia certainly wasn’t plain sailing for us, especially with the puncture, but Timmy [Hansen] and I learned so much and to finish second in the final after a tricky start to the event was just awesome. Now we go into Senegal third in the standings, which is a really strong position to be in. We definitely feel well-prepared and ready to apply what we learned from Saudi at the Ocean X Prix — and hopefully score another podium!”

Ahead of Senegal, Hansen has been busy keeping physically fit through lots of running, even finishing the virtual Wings for Life Run to raise money for spinal cord research. He has completed some off-road training in the Polaris, supported Munnings in her RallyX Nordic debut in Höljes and also taken some important time off to celebrate his son Sam’s third birthday.

“I’ve had a productive few weeks, continuing with my training, fulfilling some sponsor obligations and also spending a bit of time with my family. It feels good to strike the right balance,” said Hansen. “It’s been great having Catie over in Sweden again too. We’ve done a full debrief from Saudi and know the areas where we can improve. We’re both feeling confident going into Senegal with a refreshed state of mind.”

The Ocean X Prix starts on May 29, and as the all-electric SUVs have been at sea traveling the globe on the series’ floating centerpiece, the St. Helena, teams will not be able to start preparations with the cars themselves until they touch down in Senegal.


Taif Racing Season to offer $4.87m in prize money

Taif Racing Season to offer $4.87m in prize money
Updated 18 May 2021

Taif Racing Season to offer $4.87m in prize money

Taif Racing Season to offer $4.87m in prize money
  • Chairman of Saudi Jockey Club confirms introduction of new race categories for upcoming season

RIYADH: The Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia has announced that the Taif Racing Season, which runs for four months from June 4, will consist of 24 events of eight races per day taking place on Fridays and Saturdays, Arabic sports daily Arriyadiyah reported.

The total prize money for the season will be $4.87 million (SR18.26 million), covering the 192 scheduled races.

Prince Bandar bin Khalid Al-Faisal, chairman of the Jockey Club, revealed that the season will see the introduction of a number of new races.

“The Taif season will witness the two Taif Cups for foals and foals aged two years, the two cups for mares and horses of ages three years, in addition to the Okaz Cup which is open for horses aged three years and more, and the King Faisal Cup for Arabian horses with a prize of 1 million riyals,” he said.


Talisca snubs Al-Hilal for Riyadh rivals Al-Nassr via social media video

Talisca snubs Al-Hilal for Riyadh rivals Al-Nassr via social media video
Updated 18 May 2021

Talisca snubs Al-Hilal for Riyadh rivals Al-Nassr via social media video

Talisca snubs Al-Hilal for Riyadh rivals Al-Nassr via social media video
  • The Brazilian was expected to join the reigning champions, but confirmed his move from Guangzhou FC to AL-Nassr in a clip that will ensure next season’s derby will have added spice

LONDON: Next season’s Riyadh Derby is going to be even more electric than usual.

Reigning Saudi Pro League champions Al-Hilal had spent much of May negotiating with Brazilian star Talisca, but there he was on Tuesday on Al-Nassr’s Twitter channel announcing a quite unexpected move to the Saudi capital.

In a video that showed him watching a video of Al-Hilal in action, and then laughing out loud, the 27 year-old held up that famous yellow shirt to the camera to inform fans that he was joining Al-Nassr from Guangzhou FC.

 

 

It remains to be seen who will be laughing next season.

The player who was hailed as the next big Brazilian star in his teenage years, and despite being linked at one time with Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool, still has much to prove.

The move has upset a few people in China as well. The attacking midfielder, who can also play further up the pitch, enjoyed two-and-a-half successful seasons in China with Guangzhou FC and won the Chinese Super League title in 2019.

Fans of the two-time Asian champions feel that their club should have held out for more than the reported fee of one million euros.

With just a year remaining on his contract, the figure should perhaps have been five or six times that.

For a player who scored 39 goals in 65 appearances in China and managed 13 assists, Al-Nassr have got themselves a bargain.

One reason for that is that Al-Nassr’s new star hasn’t played this year.

This was not due to injuries or form, but regulations stopping him from re-entering China.

Talisca has been stuck in Brazil and unable to actually get inside the country to play for Guangzhou.

Club coach Fabio Cannavaro, understood that the time was right to release him.

The concern for Guangzhou is that Talisca’s colleague and compatriot Paulinho has the same travel issues, and the club are now keen not to lose their biggest star.

That is not Al-Nassr’s concern, though they will want to know how to get the best out of the player who moved to Benfica in 2014 for $5.790 million.

He started well in Portugal with eight goals in his first 10 games there and was hailed as one of the brightest young talents in Europe, even compared to the likes of Yaya Toure and Rivaldo.

The talent was there for all to see, the left foot was especially beautiful, he could play anywhere in attack — on the wings, in the middle or as a second striker — and cut an imposing figure.

After two years at Benfica during which he won two Portuguese league titles, he didn’t move to the English Premier League as many had predicted, but was loaned out to Besiktas in Turkey.

There, he won the  Super League and then headed to China in 2018.

There was some disappointment when he chose to head east, but some of the best players in the world were doing the same at the time.

Another league title followed for Talisca in 2019.

Everywhere he has been outside his homeland, Talisca has won league championships which bodes well for Al-Nassr fans.

There has been some criticism in China of a tendency to drift through games especially last season, though 2020 was tough for all, with players confined to their hotel rooms for seven months.

He scored and made goals but rarely took control of games. 

Talisca’s arrival may, however, spell the end of Pity Martinez in Riyadh.

The Argentine made headlines last September when joining the club for around $18 million.

Martinez has since endured something of a difficult first season in Saudi Arabia and while he has shown sporadic flashes of the form that made him the 2018 South American Player of the Year, he did not do so on a consistent basis.

And when injury cut his season short and ruled him out of the AFC Champions League group stage, he wasn’t really missed.

New Al-Nassr coach Mano Menezes came in to replace Alen Horvat and the former Brazilian boss guided the Al-Nassr through a difficult group and into the second round.

There have been regular rumors of Martinez leaving Saudi Arabia for months and with Talisca now in the team and playing a similar role, the route back to South America, or as many think, back to MLS, is now open. 

For Al-Nassr, they have got a player who should be at the peak of his career and still has something to prove.

And, thanks to that welcome video and the fact that he had been talking to Al-Hilal for some time, it means that next season will have even more spice than usual.


With Barcelona out of title race, Messi has future to decide

With Barcelona out of title race, Messi has future to decide
Updated 17 May 2021

With Barcelona out of title race, Messi has future to decide

With Barcelona out of title race, Messi has future to decide
  • Last summer, Messi had said he wanted to leave Barcelona after a campaign that finished without a title

BARCELONA: With Barcelona’s season effectively over, Lionel Messi now has a big decision to make.

Should he finish out his career at the club that helped him become an all-time soccer great?

Or have the team’s struggles to keep winning trophies convinced him that he can find more success in Paris or Manchester?

Barcelona were left without any chance of winning the Spanish league on Sunday, bowing out the title race in demoralizing fashion after letting Celta Vigo overhaul a goal by Messi and rally for a 2-1 victory.

Atletico Madrid beat Osasuna 2-1 and can now only be caught by Real Madrid in next weekend’s final round.

Barcelona have one game left on the calendar, but with nothing to play for except third place in the league, the club’s attention is now fully on the future of its inscrutable star.

Last summer, Messi had said he wanted to leave Barcelona after a campaign that finished without a title and a humiliating 8-2 loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League. When that exit was denied by the club, Messi said that he would focus on this season and put off any decision until this summer when his contract expires on June 30.

Since then, Joan Laporta has been elected for a second stint as the club’s president. Laporta ran Barcelona when Messi was just blossoming with the team and maintained a good relationship with the player and his family. Even so, Messi has not confirmed a decision on his future.

“I hope not,” coach Ronald Koeman replied when he was asked if he believed Messi had played his final match at Camp Nou — a stadium still without fans because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“He is still the best player in the world and today he showed that it is impossible to play without him,” Koeman said. “He has scored 30 goals this season (in the league) and earned us a lot of points.

“It is up to Messi. For me and the club, we want him to stay with us. Because if Leo is not here, we have doubts about who can score.”

On the same night that Barcelona’s women won the Champions League for the first time by routing Chelsea 4-0, Barcelona’s men’s lineup was again undone by some sloppy defending and failing to converting their scoring chances.

The 33-year-old Messi extended his club-record tally to 672 goals with a header to give Barcelona a first-half lead against Celta. But like too many times in recent weeks, Barcelona’s defense let it down. Celta striker Santi Mina equalized before halftime on a shot that goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen could have done more to try to keep out. Mina then added a second goal in the 88th after defender Clément Lenglet left Barcelona a man down when he earned a second yellow card.

Koeman had succeeded in bringing in some younger players to rejuvenate Barcelona’s squad this season and steering the team to the Copa del Rey title last month.

The former Barcelona defender had also inspired his team to a hot streak in the league that had allowed it to almost erase a double-digit lead by Atletico.

But when Barcelona had the opportunity to move past Atletico and take the lead in late April, it was upset 2-1 by Granada at home. That loss derailed the team. Barcelona drew with Atletico and at Levante before the loss to Celta. If it does not beat the already relegated Eibar in the last round, Barcelona could finish in fourth place.

The late-season collapse of his team that may have put Koeman’s job in danger comes with midfield great Xavi Hernández apparently being groomed to take his place.