From the streets to international level, cricket thrives in Saudi Arabia’s South Asian communities

For years, South Asian expatriates have taken part in these self-organised matches on the streets of Riyadh, Jeddah and in other Saudi cities. (Supplied)
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For years, South Asian expatriates have taken part in these self-organised matches on the streets of Riyadh, Jeddah and in other Saudi cities. (Supplied)
For years, South Asian expatriates have taken part in these self-organised matches on the streets of Riyadh, Jeddah and in other Saudi cities. (Supplied)
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For years, South Asian expatriates have taken part in these self-organised matches on the streets of Riyadh, Jeddah and in other Saudi cities. (Supplied)
For years, South Asian expatriates have taken part in these self-organised matches on the streets of Riyadh, Jeddah and in other Saudi cities. (Supplied)
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For years, South Asian expatriates have taken part in these self-organised matches on the streets of Riyadh, Jeddah and in other Saudi cities. (Supplied)
For years, South Asian expatriates have taken part in these self-organised matches on the streets of Riyadh, Jeddah and in other Saudi cities. (Supplied)
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For years, South Asian expatriates have taken part in these self-organised matches on the streets of Riyadh, Jeddah and in other Saudi cities. (Supplied)
For years, South Asian expatriates have taken part in these self-organised matches on the streets of Riyadh, Jeddah and in other Saudi cities. (Supplied)
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For years, South Asian expatriates have taken part in these self-organised matches on the streets of Riyadh, Jeddah and in other Saudi cities. (Supplied)
For years, South Asian expatriates have taken part in these self-organised matches on the streets of Riyadh, Jeddah and in other Saudi cities. (Supplied)
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For years, South Asian expatriates have taken part in these self-organised matches on the streets of Riyadh, Jeddah and in other Saudi cities. (Supplied)
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Updated 22 February 2021

From the streets to international level, cricket thrives in Saudi Arabia’s South Asian communities

From the streets to international level, cricket thrives in Saudi Arabia’s South Asian communities
  • For years, South Asian expatriates have taken part in self-organised matches on Saudi streets
  • Organized cricket has, however, existed for much longer in Saudi Arabia.

RIYADH: Take a drive through Riyadh’s Hai Al Wizarat or Al Nassem neighborhoods and, chances are, you’ll come across kids playing seemingly impromptu games of street cricket.

But these games have a storied heritage across Saudi Arabia’s parking lots and roads.

For years, South Asian expatriates have taken part in these self-organised matches on the streets of Riyadh, Jeddah and in other Saudi cities. Wherever Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis go, it seems they take cricket with them.

Saudi Arabia is home to millions of residents from that cricket-mad part of the world, so it is only natural that street cricket thrives among these communities.

One of the organizations playing an important role in the rise of the game’s popularity at community level in recent years is the GK International Indian Sports Club (GKIISC) in Riyadh.

“The growth of cricket in the Kingdom is an inspirational story,” Dr. Gayas Ahmed Sattar, GKIISC president, told Arab News. “Saudi Arabia has a large expatriate community from major cricket-playing nations like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. People from these countries carry cricket in their bags wherever they go.”

The spread of the game in Saudi Arabia started decades ago at street level and later developed to include first-class cricket, he said. “Many clubs and associations helped in this journey. Now, Saudi Arabia has a national cricket team which is starting to make its mark at the international level.”

When Sattar co-founded the GKIISC with Mohammed Kaleem a decade ago, it was to translate interest at street level to organized participation.

“Our club organized the Mash Cup in 2010 and later started a major cricketing event every year called ‘Youm Al-Watani Cup,’ played as a tribute to our second homeland Saudi Arabia on Saudi National Day,” Sattar said. “The GKIISC cricket journey has taken it to professional level, when A-level teams of the Riyadh Cricket Association took part under the supervision of the Saudi Cricket Centre.”

COVID-19 restrictions permitting, the club is looking for potential events to launch later this year.

Organized cricket has, however, existed for much longer than that in Saudi Arabia.

The Riyadh Cricket Association (RCA) is a non-profit body that was formed in 1980 to promote the game in the region. Its membership comprises players from all walks of life: Engineers, bankers, corporate managers, and other sports enthusiasts.

“Since its formation it has been successful in bringing cricket as a game among the Saudis and expatriates working in the region, which was only possible by the support of RCA Patron-in-Chief Prince General Dr. Abdulaziz Bin Nasser Bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud,” reads a statement on RCA’s Facebook page.

The RCA is also associated with the Saudi Cricket Centre, which has been affiliated with the International Cricket Council since 2003.

Tournaments come in the T20 and 40-over formats, and include the Prince Abdulaziz Bin Nasser Trophy and events between the RCA and other regional associations.

One Pakistani spoke of his love for the game, which was nurtured in the schoolyards and streets of Riyadh.

“It came from my father, he used to play cricket with a lot of passion, but sadly he is no longer with us,” said Abdul Qadir Abdulkarim Khan, who has represented Saudi Arabia as a teenager and played at senior levels too. “But his team, Pak Shaheen, has been here for the last 30 years. He played cricket in the early days of the game in Saudi Arabia and was also designated as the senior vice president of the RCA and senior adviser at the Riyadh Cricket League. His legacy of playing cricket is close to my heart.”

Organised cricket has provided much-needed health benefits over the last year, even in a limited way.

“If we are following standard operating procedure and playing the game it keeps us healthy,” said Khan. “It further makes our immune system stronger, which is important especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

In a message circulated in Urdu, Arabic and English, the Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation advised the management of all regional associations to closely observe COVID-19 protocols, Khan added.

He has seen the game rise in popularity beyond the traditional South Asian base to include Saudis as well.

“It started with expatriates playing the game and now a lot of Saudi youths are also taking part in Jeddah and other cities, and I am very much hopeful of them representing Saudi Arabia at an international level one day.”

Faiz Al-Najdi, from Pakistan, also has a passion for street cricket. He said it was a favorite pastime for people in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. “The love for the game is the same for expatriates from these countries living here in the Kingdom. I have been associated with the RCA for many years, and I have witnessed the love, passion and enthusiasm for the game grow among the young and old alike.”

The pandemic has meant that cricket at all levels is being played in a more restricted manner although, when things return to normal, there will be an eager community raring to go.

“I love to play cricket,” said Bangaldeshi Suhan Khan. “I simply enjoy playing on my off-days, my friends and I gather at nearby grounds to play. Due to the pandemic, things are not the same, but we are looking forward and waiting for things to improve so that we can return back to the ground and play our favorite game.”

For thousands of other cricket lovers who call Saudi Arabia their home, that day cannot come soon enough.


Exclusive: Israeli judoka Raz Hershko lauds ‘brave’ Saudi opponent Tahani Al-Qahtani

Exclusive: Israeli judoka Raz Hershko lauds ‘brave’ Saudi opponent Tahani Al-Qahtani
Updated 04 August 2021

Exclusive: Israeli judoka Raz Hershko lauds ‘brave’ Saudi opponent Tahani Al-Qahtani

Exclusive: Israeli judoka Raz Hershko lauds ‘brave’ Saudi opponent Tahani Al-Qahtani

DUBAI: Two female judokas, one mat, one Olympic contest. That the two athletes competing, Tahani Al-Qahtani and Raz Hershko, happened to be from Saudi Arabia and Israel, made the recent first round of the women’s judo 78-kilogram-class meeting at Tokyo 2020 more than just an ordinary bout.

The two countries have no formal relations and no history of sporting competition to speak of. Furthermore, regional politics and boycotts movements have made it a norm that Arab athletes refuse to take part in any match opposite an Israeli counterpart in fear that this might be interpreted as a form of recognition.

This is why, in an exclusive interview with Arab News, Israeli judoka Hershko had made it a point to praise the bravery of Al-Qahtani. Not only did the Saudi judoka defy popular calls by hatemongers to boycott the match, but she participated knowing very well that Hershko has far more international experience and was clearly the likely winner.

The 23-year-old Israeli said: “I think it is amazing that we both put politics aside to do something we love. I was super excited that anything can happen at the Olympics.

“I knew it was rare for an (Arab) to accept to fight like this, but I was so excited when she accepted. Both of us put politics to the side and did what we loved together in the match.”

Algerian Fethi Nourine and Sudan’s Mohammed Abdalrasool had withdrawn from the judo men’s plus-73-kg competition rather than face the possibility of taking on an Israeli athlete. But Al-Qahtani chose to compete against Hershko, a decision that drew praise from Japanese media and prompted a wave of support from high-profile figures and sports fans in Saudi Arabia.

Al-Qahtani was the last of the Kingdom’s 33 athletes to confirm her place at Tokyo 2020, her wild card selection making her only the second female judoka from the country to participate in the Olympics since the 2012 London Games. The two women had walked out side-by-side onto the mat ahead of what turned out to be a tough match for the inexperienced 22-year-old Saudi. As the fight progressed, Hershko racked up the points, eventually beating Al-Qahtani 11-0.

“It was a tough fight in the beginning. She (Al-Qahtani) was brave to take on the fight despite pressure from hatemongers about her decision to fight me,” Hershko added. The victor pointed out that she and Al-Qahtani were simply human beings, females from different countries, playing in a match. “I don’t think it was different from fighting someone from the US or South Africa. It was great that Al-Qahtani bravely accepted and let politics stay out of the picture.”

After Al-Qahtani’s loss, some questioned whether the pressure of the situation had affected her performance.

While Al-Qahtani was not available for comment, Hershko noted the importance of the match and how sport could be a uniting force at a time when politics in the Middle East continued to be a hot topic, even after several countries had normalized relations with Israel.

“Politics has nothing to do with it, it was a good match,” said Hershko.

In a statement after the bout, the International Judo Federation said: “This game shows that sports can transcend political and external influences.”

Al-Qahtani’s courageous performance on and off the judo mat demonstrated a notable shift in Saudi Arabia, and an openness to rise above current geopolitics in the realm of sports and culture, both avenues that could bring people from opposing nations together.

On whether she would accept an invitation to compete in Saudi Arabia, Hershko said: “Of course, why not?”


Qatar beats Italy to reach men’s beach volleyball semifinals in Tokyo

Qatar beats Italy to reach men’s beach volleyball semifinals in Tokyo
Updated 04 August 2021

Qatar beats Italy to reach men’s beach volleyball semifinals in Tokyo

Qatar beats Italy to reach men’s beach volleyball semifinals in Tokyo
  • Duo of Cherif Younousse and Ahmed Tijan are now on a five-match winning streak ahead of tomorrow’s clash with Russian Olympic Committee team

TOKYO: Qatar has reached the Tokyo 2020 beach volleyball men’s semifinal after beating Italy in straight sets at Shiokaze Park on Wednesday evening.
The Qatari duo of Cherif Younousse and Ahmed Tijan put on an impressive display to defeat the Italian team of Paolo Nicolai and Daniele Lupo 2-0 (21-17, 23-21) in the quarterfinal.
The Qatari athletes, both 26, will now take on Viacheslav Krasilnikov and Oleg Stoyanovskiy of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) on Thursday afternoon (from 4pm KSA).
On Sunday, Younousse and Tijan defeated the US 2-1 (14-21, 21-19,15-11) in the round of 16 to reach today’s last-eight match.
Qatar’s beach volleyball team is now on a five-match winning streak at Tokyo 2020.
The started their Olympic campaign on July 25 by beating Switzerland 2-1 (21-17, 21-16) in their preliminary round — Group C match.
They followed that up with two more group victories; a 2-1 win over Italy three days later, and a 2-0 against the US last Friday.


Syrian Man Asaad wins bronze in Tokyo 2020 weightlifting competition

Syrian Man Asaad wins bronze in Tokyo 2020 weightlifting competition
Updated 04 August 2021

Syrian Man Asaad wins bronze in Tokyo 2020 weightlifting competition

Syrian Man Asaad wins bronze in Tokyo 2020 weightlifting competition
  • Total score of 424 was enough to see 27-year-old finish behind Lasha Talakhadze, Ali Davoudi
  • Asaad had finished 15th at Rio 2016 with a score of 400 in the 105kg competition

RIYADH: Syrian weightlifter Man Asaad on Wednesday picked up an Olympic bronze medal in the men’s plus-109-kilogram competition at the Tokyo International Forum.

The 27-year-old posted a 190 in the snatch category and followed that with a clean and jerk best of 234, for a total of 424.

Lasha Talakhadze of Georgia won gold with a new Olympic and world record 488, while silver medal winner Ali Davoudi of Iran managed a score of 441.

Asaad had finished 15th at Rio 2016 with a score of 400 in the 105kg competition, while his best performance at an international tournament remains a silver in the 109kg at the 2020 Asian Championships in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, when he managed to total 433.


Egyptian riders fall short of medals in Tokyo 2020 jumping individual final

Egyptian riders fall short of medals in Tokyo 2020 jumping individual final
Updated 04 August 2021

Egyptian riders fall short of medals in Tokyo 2020 jumping individual final

Egyptian riders fall short of medals in Tokyo 2020 jumping individual final
  • In a strong field of 30, Mouda Zeyada and Nayel Nassar finished 19th and 24th

TOKYO: The Egyptian equestrian athletes Mouda Zeyada and Nayel Nassar failed in their quest for Olympic gold at the jumping individual final at Tokyo’s Equestrian Park on Wednesday afternoon.
Their times of 86.63 and 89.63 left Zeyada and Nassar in positions 19 and 24 respectively and out of contention for the medals.


In the jump-off to decide the winner after six competitors shared top spot, the gold medal eventually went to the British rider Ben Maher (37.85), the silver to the Swede Peder Fredricson (38.02), and bronze to Maikel van der Vleuten of the Netherlands (38.90)
On Tuesday, a near-faultless ride had seen 30-year-old Nassar progress to today’s final, where he was joined by 26-year-old compatriot Zeyada among the competition’s top 30 qualifiers.
Nassar in particular has been the center of attention since the weekend after Bill Gates, father of his wife Jennifer Katharine Gates, sent him a message of good luck on social media that went viral in the days before the start of the competition.


Star-studded teams confirmed for 2021 Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup at Ascot

Star-studded teams confirmed for 2021 Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup at Ascot
Updated 04 August 2021

Star-studded teams confirmed for 2021 Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup at Ascot

Star-studded teams confirmed for 2021 Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup at Ascot
  • 3 riders will represent each team of Great Britain, Ireland, Ladies, Rest of the World
  • Dubai Duty Free CEO Colm McLoughlin: The Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup is undoubtedly one of the highlights of our horseracing sponsorship portfolio and one of Ascot’s most popular events

DUBAI: A star-studded field of jockeys will line up for the Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup at Ascot this year with four new-look teams set to do battle in the 20th running of the event on Saturday.

Teams will comprise of three riders representing Great Britain, Ireland, Ladies, and Rest of the World contesting six valuable handicaps each worth £42,000 ($58,500).

Dubai Duty Free chief executive officer and executive vice president, Colm McLoughlin, said: “The Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup is undoubtedly one of the highlights of our horseracing sponsorship portfolio and one of Ascot’s most popular events.

“Unfortunately, the ongoing (coronavirus disease) COVID-19 travel restrictions will prevent us from being there in person this year, but we will be following all the action closely from Dubai as the day unfolds and we wish all the jockeys and the horses’ connections a great day.”

Great Britain will be captained by Adam Kirby, this year’s Epsom Derby winning jockey who will be making his second appearance in the competition. He will be joined by top international jockey James Doyle, and one of this year’s Royal Ascot-winning riders Cieren Fallon, best known for his association with high-class sprinter Oxted.

Doyle will be making his third appearance in the competition having ridden a winner on both previous occasions in 2012 and 2013. It will be Fallon’s Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup debut, but he will be looking to maintain a strong family tradition on the day after his father, Kieren, won the Alistair Haggis Silver Saddle in 2003 and was on the winning team in 2001 and 2002.

This year’s Ascot Gold Cup-winning jockey Joe Fanning will captain the Ireland team and he will have the help of rising-star David Egan who has enjoyed big-race success in Saudi Arabia and Dubai this season. The Ireland team is completed by Tadhg O’Shea, the most successful jockey of all-time in the UAE having ridden more than 600 winners and won the UAE jockeys’ championship for the ninth time this season.

A formidable Ladies team will be captained by Hayley Turner, the most successful jockey in the history of the Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup with eight winners and 297 points from 13 appearances. Turner’s team will also feature globe-trotting sensation Mickaelle Michel from France and Scotland’s Nicola Currie.

Sean Levey will lead the Rest of the World team and the Swaziland-born Classic-winning jockey will be joined by Kevin Stott who became the first Dane to win a British Group 1 when victory in last year’s Diamond Jubilee at Royal Ascot initiated a memorable double on the day. Subject to being released by his retainer, three-time champion jockey Silvestre de Sousa, who has one previous Shergar Cup appearance in 2016, will complete the Rest of the World team.

Nick Smith, director of racing and public affairs at Ascot Racecourse, said: “We’re thrilled with the jockey lineup for the Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup this year. Obviously COVID-19 has made international travel very difficult, so to pull together such a strong set of teams that still has a global feel is really pleasing.

“It should be a great day’s racing and another thrilling renewal of the competition which sadly didn’t take place last year, but we look forward to building the day back up in the years to come.”