Saudi Cup’s real legacy will be the rise of local talent

Saudi Cup’s real legacy will be the rise of local talent
Saudi jockey Adel Al-Fouraidi is greeted by his horse's owners as he wins The Obaiya Arabian Classic of the Saudi Cup, at King Abdul Aziz race track in Riyadh on Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021. (AP)
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Updated 21 February 2021

Saudi Cup’s real legacy will be the rise of local talent

Saudi Cup’s real legacy will be the rise of local talent
  • Success of $10 million winner Mishref, jockey Al-Fouraidi and host of other owners and trainers highlighted rising Saudi involvement
  • Al-Fouraidi rode Saudi horse Mubasher Al-Khalediah to victory in the US $2 million Obaiya Arabian Classic

RIYADH: The smile on Adel Al-Fouraidi’s face said it all.
The Saudi rider had just won the last of the four International Jockeys Challenge races to secure second place overall on the first day of the Saudi Cup weekend.
Riding Zhabi Al-Hammad, Al-Fouraidi romped home ahead of the rest of the strong 14-jockey field, having finished second in the second Jockeys Challenge earlier.
“It means a lot to me to represent all Saudi jockeys,” he said, barely concealing his glee. “She was a favored filly, a good filly, and she helped me a lot to win this race.
“It’s hard to describe the feeling. I felt that everyone was with me. It was a dream come true.”
But things were about to get even better for the local boy.
The following day, as the eyes of the racing world turned to the $30.5 million Saudi Cup, the world’s richest horse race meeting, Al-Fouraidi found himself in the spotlight again.
First, he rode Saudi horse Mubasher Al-Khalediah to victory ahead of stablemate Mutwakel Al-Khalediah in the US $2 million Obaiya Arabian Classic, the richest race in the world for purebred Arabians.
For the second day running, the television cameras caught an elated Al-Fouraidi.
“I thank God for this win. I cannot describe this feeling,” he said. “The race started very fast, but I took my time with this horse because I had ridden him before, and slowly I picked up the pace. In the end, it worked for me and we won.”
To cap a memorable personal weekend, Al-Fouraidi then rode Great Scot — owned by Prince Faisal bin Khalid — to third place in the showpiece $20 million Saudi Cup. A $2 million prize is the stuff of dreams for a jockey few had heard of days earlier.
Naturally, the focus on Saturday night was on the winner of the $10 million top prize, Mishref, ridden by David Egan, trained by John Gosden and owned by Prince Abdul Rahman bin Abdullah Al-Faisal.
And for good reason. A superlative race by Egan saw him steer Mishref to an unexpected victory over the favored American horse Charlatan, trained by the legendary Bob Baffert.
But the real legacy of the Saudi Cup could well be the establishment of a thriving, sustainable horse racing industry driven by the country’s own talent.
This was not an event that simply relied on importing the best international practitioners. Saudi involvement was ubiquitous.
The International Jockeys Challenge, in which riders are assigned horses prepared by Saudi-based trainers, pits 14 international male and female jockeys against each other in four races worth $400,000 each.
But the Jockeys Challenge day is also intended to boost local participation in line with Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, with four other races taking place throughout the afternoon.
On Friday, horses from Bahrain, Spain and the Czech Republic were left behind by Petrus — trained by Fawaz Al-Ghareeba — who emerged victorious at the inaugural running of the $500,000 Saudi International Handicap sponsored by Al Rajhi Bank.
Meanwhile, the Imported & Local Bred Handicap, the Local Bred Fillies Open and Friday’s final race, the Local Bred Horses Open, all provided other Saudi jockeys and trainers a share of the spotlight.
Beyond the races, awards and top prize money, it was a welcome sign of changing times to see how every aspect of the Saudi Cup was carried out by local talent, both male and, significantly, female.
From the volunteers, some clearly still in their teenage years, directing the arriving cars and buses, to the golf buggy drivers, security personnel, media center staff and ushers — all were local, professional and courteous.
While having the finest international talent perform at your doorstep is no doubt inspirational, involving local students and young adults in such programs and events provides a tangible way for Saudis to be introduced into the horse racing industry.
From the Saudi Cup, more competitions and racing programs will emerge according to Amr Zedan, member of the Saudi Equestrian Authority and the owner of Zedan Racing Stables in Kentucky, US.
The Saudi Cup, he told Arab News earlier this month, “is reinventing the way racing is done from a regional perspective, and internationally as well.”
He also highlighted the Kingdom’s geography and climate as factors in promoting equestrian activities all year round.
“Saudi Arabia is very unique in many ways. We don’t have a single season,” Zedan said. “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.”
All the conditions are there to succeed, as Al-Fouraidi and many others showed at the 2021 Saudi Cup. It’s time for young Saudis to take the reins.


Saudi Sports for All Federation campaign looks to boost physical activity

Saudi Sports for All Federation campaign looks to boost physical activity
Updated 07 March 2021

Saudi Sports for All Federation campaign looks to boost physical activity

Saudi Sports for All Federation campaign looks to boost physical activity
  • The SFA app makes it easier for people to be active, allowing users to create and join groups, attend events and participate in activities

The Saudi Sports for All Federation (SFA) has launched a national health awareness campaign to encourage people across the Kingdom to engage in physical activity.

The Start Now campaign calls on people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds to step up their fitness regimes; to draw on their ambition, courage, creativity and willpower to find motivation and methods for improving their health and wellbeing.

For the campaign, different scenarios have been devised to speak to different demographics across the country. From adding movement to a sedentary office job or encouraging children to take up a new hobby, to finding the willpower to overcome a perceived impediment to exercise — whether you’re a working mother, a grandparent, a person with disabilities or an experienced athlete — the SFA initiative is calling on the Kingdom’s population to take action and be part of a healthier and happier Saudi Arabia.

The federation has made it easier than ever to be involved — individually or communally — through the SFA app.

“The work of the Sports for All Federation to inspire, encourage and facilitate health and wellbeing across Saudi Arabia has taken another significant leap with this new campaign,” said HRH Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal Al Saud, president of the SFA. “The support that the app gives people as they start or continue their fitness journeys is significant; it provides a sense of community, and easy access to a range of challenges and opportunities designed by users and the SFA itself. There’s no time like the present to Start Now and take your next step toward a fitter and healthier life.”

Launched across Android and iOS platforms in July last year, the app allows users to create and manage Community Sports Groups (CSG), create events, invite audiences to encourage mass participation, and discover other CSGs and their events.

Users can also connect their Apple Watch, Google Fit, Fitbit and Samsung Health fitness trackers to the app, giving them a wider-range of capabilities such as self-challenges and group challenges.

By providing physical activity for everyone, everywhere, at any time, the app and Start Now campaign are giving people the tools and motivation they need to design and achieve their fitness goals.

As well as making it easier to participate in physical activity, the app offers users the chance to win prizes through SFA Rewards. Launched in November 2020, users can collect points by taking part in various challenges. Each month, 10 users are awarded prizes — five based on their performance on the app’s leaderboard, and five drawn from a raffle.

SFA Rewards and the app itself represent the second benchmark in the federation’s wider digital strategy to help community level sports participation through technology. The first was the launch of its Healthy Living portal in mid-March last year, which contains a wealth of material focused on making wellness accessible to all.

The federation’s digital strategy took on extra importance in 2020, helping to keep people active and healthy through its website, app and social media channels. An online women’s fitness festival, a childrens’ summer camp, and the popular Baytak Nadeek campaign were among the initiatives that proved the benefit of the SFA’s digital presence.

“The SFA is committed to ensuring everybody has the support and encouragement they need to stay active and healthy, no matter where they are or what their circumstances are,” said SFA Managing Director Shaima Saleh Al-Husseini. “We stand as a community and succeeded as a community, and we are standing with you again as we launch Start Now. The SFA app is your gateway to a sustainable and healthy lifestyle, as we work together to grow Saudi Arabia’s vibrant active community, and continue to increase the wellbeing of the nation.”

With support from the Ministry of Sport and the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee, the SFA is mandated under Vision 2030’s Quality of Life program to increase the number of people undertaking regular physical activity in the Kingdom to 40 percent by 2030. To help meet this target, the federation facilitates frequent sporting challenges and experiences.

In 2020, amid the COVID-19 lockdown, more than 350,000 people took part in virtual and in-person SFA programs, including its landmark initiatives Move to Game — which has seen more than 151,000 people generate more than 10 billion steps so far — and Step Together. In its four editions to date, more than 8,750 people have taken part in Step Together, covering tens of thousands of kilometers in a series of fitness challenges.

A women’s community football league, national cricket tournament, girls’ national sports day, and numerous other events and initiatives have also provided an active outlet for people, whatever their gender, technical standard or social environment.

To enhance its offerings, the SFA has also entered into a series of high-profile global and local partnerships, including with the World Health Organization, Nike, PepsiCo. Arabia and Majid Al Futtaim.


Blachowicz reigns supreme against Adesanya at UFC 259

Blachowicz reigns supreme against Adesanya at UFC 259
Updated 07 March 2021

Blachowicz reigns supreme against Adesanya at UFC 259

Blachowicz reigns supreme against Adesanya at UFC 259
  • Brazilian legend Amanda Nunes successfully defends featherweight title against Megan Anderson

Jan Blachowicz was the headline winner at UFC 259, successfully defending his light heavyweight championship belt after defeating middleweight champion Israel Adesanya via unanimous decision.

The action at UFC APEX in Las Vegas on Sunday morning also saw the greatest female fighter in mixed martial arts history, Amanda Nunes, successfully defend her featherweight belt against Megan Anderson. Bantamweight champion Petr Yan lost to Aljamain Sterling in four rounds.

Blachowicz said: “For sure it was a tough fight (against Adesanya), it was a close fight, but Izzy kicked a little bit more than I did. I think my boxing was a little bit better than his. My wrestling was much better than his.”

He added: “Thank you Izzy for this fight. It was a pleasure for me to fight against someone like you … I’m happy that I can be the first to beat him, one of the best in the world.”

Blachowicz said he deserved the win and tactically the fight had worked out as he and his team had envisioned.

“I’m a true champion, I deserve what I got. It was a hard job for me tonight, but I do my best,” he added.

“What we prepared for him in the gym we did in the fight … I should’ve wrestled him a little bit more a little bit earlier. I should’ve put more pressure on him. I should’ve put more of my boxing skills on him. But he’s a great fighter, he wouldn’t let me go. But anyway I did almost everything that we trained for.”

The 38-year-old from Poland said at some point he had trouble breathing freely, despite feeling he had trained in a “perfect” manner for the fight.

“I started to feel that my breath wasn’t so good, but after 30 seconds I focused a little bit more, I relaxed and my breath came back to normal and I saw it was ok,” he added.

“That was a moment but I survived. Maybe that was after one of his kicks, I don’t know, I don’t remember, but that was only one moment in the fight.”

The Brazilian Nunes had forced a submission out of her Australian opponent Anderson after 2:03 of the first round, and revealed that she has different strategies for different opponents.

“I can’t go in the cage without strategies A, B and C, because you don’t know if something is going to go wrong,” the 32-year-old said.

“You have to be ready, so for Megan I wanted to finish her, I didn’t want to knock her out. I paced myself. I saw she was done already, but I wanted to finish the fight on the floor with my jiu-jitsu,” she added.

“I feel like this is the moment that I wanted for so long. I worked hard for this moment. I’m hungry. I always go to the gym to get better and better. I chose this to be my job. I love to do this. Every time that I think about it, it’s driving me forward and motivating me. Whatever happens next, I’m going to be here to defend. It’s not something that I’m going to go away. I have two belts. I have to come back and defend them, and I’ll be very happy to do it.”

After defeating Yan via disqualification at 4:29 of the fourth round, Sterling revealed that it was not how he wished to win the fight.

“I wanted to continue. The fight was fast paced. It was a lot of action. I know the fans were enjoying that,” said the Jamaican American.

“This was potentially going to be one of the fights of the year, or one of the greatest bantamweight fights in history for the title. The action was nonstop until that point,” he added.

“Sorry fans. Sorry that the fight went like this. I hope we get to run it back, do it again and give you the fight you guys deserve.”


Ali Mabkhout keeping the legend of UAE’s Golden Generation alive

Ali Mabkhout keeping the legend of UAE’s Golden Generation alive
Updated 07 March 2021

Ali Mabkhout keeping the legend of UAE’s Golden Generation alive

Ali Mabkhout keeping the legend of UAE’s Golden Generation alive
  • With 17 goals to his name, the striker is leading from the front as Al-Jazira hunt the Arabian Gulf League title

Only seven minutes into the 2015 AFC Asian Cup quarter-final, the ball drops over the shoulder of Ali Mabkhout on the right edge of the penalty area.

In one movement the Emirati striker unleashes a sensational volley into the Japanese net and the UAE are in the lead. Mabkhout does not celebrate, out of respect for the passing of the Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud earlier that day.

The epic encounter at Stadium Sydney in Australia would go into extra time and penalties, from which the UAE would emerge victorious and progress into the semifinal against the host nation.

The match remains arguably the high point of the UAE’s second “Golden Generation” of players raised by Mahdi Ali, and Mabkhout would end up the tournament’s top scorer.

Collectively and individually, things would never hit those heights again for all involved that day.

Except perhaps for Mabkhout.

Mahdi Ali would eventually depart his job as UAE head coach after the national team’s fortunes plateaued. UAE golden boy Omar Abdulrahman’s mooted move to a European team never happened and injuries have massively disrupted his career in recent years. Ahmed Khalil would be crowned 2015’s Asian Footballer of the Year but inconsistencies continued to plague him since as they have throughout his career.

All the while, Mabkhout has kept on producing the goods.

This season he has been simply unstoppable as he has led Al-Jazira to a major assault on the Arabian Gulf League title. Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Shabab Al-Ahli leaves the Pride of Abu Dhabi top of the table, two points ahead of Baniyas with seven matches left.

In the AGL’s list of top scorers, Mabkhout sits alone, with 17 goals from 19 matches. In second place, with 16, is his UAE national team colleague Fabio De Lima, the Emirati-nationalized Brazilian. But you’d have to go down all the way to 21st on the list, with five strikes, to find the next UAE-born player, Al-Jazira team-mate Khalfan Mubarak.

It is testament to Mabkhout’s caliber that he continues to mix it up with the best of the AGL’s foreign imports and still come out on top.

Apart from being plentiful, Mabkhout’s goals have been decisive.

In perhaps the most important match of the seasons so far, Mabkhout’s double ensured a 3-0 win for Al-Jazira at defending champions Sharjah. From challengers, the Abu Dhabi club were were now clear leaders and favorites.

On Feb. 5, Mabkout scored a hat trick in the 5-1 away win against Al-Dhafra. In  Al-Jazira’s next match, the comprehensive 6-0 win at Ittihad Kalba, he remarkably repeated the feat with another treble. From Friday, Jan. 29, he scored in six straight matches, until the run was needed on Saturday.

Apart from his goals, Mabkhout’s leadership qualities have grown year on year, and his understanding with the gifted Mubarak is one of the most promising in Emirati football, both at domestic and international level.

An AGL title this season would rank among Mabkhout’s greatest achievements, paving the way for another assault on the AFC Champions League next year. He already has two league titles to his name, in the 2010-11 and 2016-17 seasons, and President’s Cup winners medals in 2011 and 2012.

At international level he, like his young teammates, caught the eye at the 2012 London Olympics, won the 2013 Gulf Cup, and came to the world’s attention with a stunning 2015 AFC Asian Cup. In the latter two, he finished as tournament top scorer with five goals.

In the aftermath of their heroics in Australia, interest in Mabkhout and Abdulrahman hit a peak, with the Al-Jazira striker linked with a move to Germany.

It never materialized, as it never did for Abdulrahman either. With Mabkhout turning 31 later this year, it unlikely it ever will, and for player and fans perhaps that is no bad thing.

But Mabkhout continues to excel at home, and should he steer Al-Jazira to what is looking like an increasingly likely AGL title this season, there would still be the little matter of attempting to steer the UAE to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. It will be a tall order.

One thing is for certain, if the UAE are to stand any chance at all of qualifying for the second time ever, and first time since 1990, to football’s biggest stage, they will need their talisman firing on all cylinders. Just as he has been all season.


Al-Nassr to appeal FIFA decision to compensate former player Giuliano

 Al-Nassr to appeal FIFA decision to compensate former player Giuliano
Updated 07 March 2021

Al-Nassr to appeal FIFA decision to compensate former player Giuliano

 Al-Nassr to appeal FIFA decision to compensate former player Giuliano
  • The Riyadh club is already facing a three-window transfer ban from previous case

Saudi Professional League (SPL) club Al-Nassr have announced that they will be appealing a FIFA ruling calling on the club to pay €45 million ($53.5 million) to their former player Giuliano Victor de Paula after the player cancelled his contract for non-payment of salary, according to Saudi newspaper Arriyadiyah.

The Brazilian striker, who currently plays for Turkish club İstanbul Başakşehir, claims that he was not paid a year’s worth of wages, but Al-Nassr’s announcement revealed that the Riyadh club’s board is confident that the fine will be overturned or at the very least reduced significantly.

Having received legal advice on the matter, Al-Nassr’s point of contention is that according to FIFA’s regulation, payment of the full contract’s value is only carried out in the case of the player remaining at the club for its entire duration and not when it is canceled by one of the parties.

According to Arriyadiyah, a letter from FIFA’s dispute settlement department was sent to the club on Feb. 18 confirming Giuliano’s case against the club, but that the matter remains open to an appeal.

It is not the only time that Al-Nassr have found themselves in trouble with FIFA for financial matters in recent times.

FIFA recently slapped Al-Nassr, runner-up in the Saudi Pro League last season but currently in seventh place, with a ban that potentially leaves the club unable to strengthen their squad in the next three transfer windows.

The punishment had come after Al-Nassr signed Maicon Pereira Roque on loan from Galatasaray in 2019 and made the deal for the Brazilian defender permanent last August. The Turkish club complained to FIFA that they had not received the full transfer fee from the nine-time Saudi champions.

In December, FIFA informed Al-Nassr, in a letter seen by Arab News, that they had to pay the Istanbul club the outstanding amount of €1.1 million and an extra €300,000 in fines.

Though the due date for the payment passed last month, the club can still escape the fine if the payment is made within FIFA’s regulations.

A FIFA official told Arab News: “In all our decisions, if a club fails to pay the amount ordered by FIFA or CAS (the Court of Arbitration for Sport) within 45 days of the decision, the club serves a three-window transfer ban until payment is made.”


Djokovic takes Federer’s world number one record, eyes Grand Slam history

Djokovic takes Federer’s world number one record, eyes Grand Slam history
Updated 07 March 2021

Djokovic takes Federer’s world number one record, eyes Grand Slam history

Djokovic takes Federer’s world number one record, eyes Grand Slam history
  • Djokovic reclaimed the top ranking from Nadal in February 2020 and finished as year-end number one for the sixth time
  • He made his top 100 debut in July 2005, just weeks after Nadal had won his first Roland Garros

PARIS: Novak Djokovic will on Monday set a new landmark of 311 weeks as world number one, surpassing Roger Federer whose hold on a record-equalling 20 Grand Slam titles is now firmly in the Serb’s sights.
The 33-year-old Djokovic, already the winner of 18 majors, has time on his side with Federer turning 40 in August.
He is also a year younger than Rafael Nadal who also has 20 majors.
“Now that I’ve become the historic No.1, I’m relieved,” said Djokovic after sweeping to a ninth Australian Open last month which guaranteed his extended stay at the top.
“Now, I’m going to be able to focus mainly on the Grand Slams.”
Djokovic reclaimed the top ranking from Nadal in February 2020 and finished as year-end number one for the sixth time, tying the mark set by Pete Sampras.
He is currently in his fifth different spell atop the rankings.
Nadal, currently at number two, has been at the top for ‘only’ 209 weeks in total although the 13-time Roland Garros champion can boast being a top 10 ever-present since April 2005.
He will, however, lose his world number two spot to Daniil Medvedev a week on Monday.
Federer, who returns to action in Doha next week after more than a year out of action to recover from two knee surgeries, will slip out of the top five on Monday.
Djokovic made his top 100 debut in July 2005, just weeks after Nadal had won his first Roland Garros.
He was top 50 in June 2006, top 20 for the first time in October 2006 and top 10 by March 2007.
He first became world number one at the age of 24 on July 4, 2011, the day after winning Wimbledon for the first time, beating Nadal in the final.
Only a six-month injury absence in 2017 saw his ranking plunge, all the way to 22 the following summer.
It was just a blip — Djokovic was back at number one again by November and with the exception of November 2019 until January last year, when Nadal reclaimed pole position, he has been rock solid.
Few would bet against Djokovic, who in 2016 was the first man to break the $100 million prize money barrier, ending his career with more Slams than Federer and Nadal.
In head-to-heads, he leads Federer 27-23 and has won all six of their last meetings at the majors, including 2019’s epic Wimbledon final where he saved two match points.
Federer hasn’t beaten Djokovic at the Slams since Wimbledon in 2012.
Against Nadal, he has a 29-27 lead and is still one of only two men to have beaten the Spaniard at Roland Garros since 2005.
At least Nadal, however, can boast comfortably seeing off Djokovic in the 2020 Roland Garros final, denying the Serb the opportunity to become the first man in half a century to win all four Slams more than once.
Djokovic, whose lone French Open title came in 2016, has comfortably more Australian Opens than Federer (six) and Nadal (one).
His Wimbledon total stands at five to Federer’s eight and Nadal’s two.
At the US Open, he has three to Federer’s five and Nadal’s four.
“Obviously I have in my mind to win more Grand Slam titles and to break records.
“Until I retire from the tour, I will be devoting most of my attention and energy to winning the other major titles,” Djokovic said.