How a group of Saudi female showjumpers took over the reins

The Equestrian Union was established in 2015 bu group of Saudi female riders with an aim to compete on equal footing with male counterparts. (The Equestrian Union)
The Equestrian Union was established in 2015 bu group of Saudi female riders with an aim to compete on equal footing with male counterparts. (The Equestrian Union)
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Updated 04 March 2021

How a group of Saudi female showjumpers took over the reins

The Equestrian Union was established in 2015 bu group of Saudi female riders with an aim to compete on equal footing with male counterparts. (The Equestrian Union)
  • The Equestrian Union was formed in 2015 to allow women to compete on equal footing with men in the Kingdom

DUBAI: If it doesn’t exist, create it.

That seems to be the attitude of Saudi female athletes increasingly taking matters into their own hands. Women footballers and motor-racing drivers in the Kingdom have rightly been making the headlines recently.

But a group of six female showjumpers have been riding the wave of change even before societal reforms swept through the Kingdom and brought gender equality to the fore, as part of its Vision 2030 goals.

For years, the group of friends would attend showjumping competitions throughout the season as spectators. Until one day, while at an Equestrian Federation show in Jenadriya, they decided to establish an organization that would cater to their love of the sport, and allow them to compete on equal terms with male show jumpers.

They named it the Equestrian Union.

“Equestrian Union is an initiative that we started as Saudi female riders back in 2015, addressing the fact that there were no competitions that allowed female participation in Saudi Arabia at that time,” Mashael bint Mansour Binsultan, one of the founding showjumpers, told Arab News. She has been riding horses for the past 20 years.

“We had top imported horses, professional trainers, private stables and all the unconditional support of our families. We trained daily and took care of our horses; it was a lifestyle,” she added.

There was further positive change when in 2019, the Equestrian Federation opened up opens up participation for all female riders.

After that, progress has been rapid. In December 2019, 13 female Saudi equestrians made their home debut as part of the Diriyah Season, competing with their male counterparts for the first time ever in the Kingdom.

Binsultan, along with Sara Alruwaita, Ajwa Alsaud, Loulouah Bandar, Shuaa Alakeel and Sara Aljowie, had been honing their organisational skills long before that.

“We (had) started planning and managing events during the winter season since 2015, which shed light on showjumping competitions specifically but also included many other aspects such as cycling, hiking, archery, promoting local Saudi brands, food trucks, and horse trails,” Binsultan explained. “As a result, we gained experience in managing and organizing shows and events.”

Their first show took place in October 2015 and met all the standards of the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI).

“We want to continue promoting not only showjumping, but also social family-oriented sporting events and recreational activities, which is one of the main strategic goals of the Saudi Vision 2030,” Binsultan said. “Our families and friends were extremely supportive since the beginning. We were also fortunate enough to get added technical experience and support from local and international companies that sponsored some of the showjumping classes.”

Mansour AlMugatti, an international course designer and judge, continues to lend his support with the events to this day.

“We were very happy with the support and positive feedback we had from the Equestrian Federation which came from Prince Abdullah Bin Fahad, the president of the Equestrian Federation, honoring the winners in our last event,” she added.

Binsultan said, under the administration of the Minister of Sports Prince Abdulaziz Bin Turki, equestrian tournaments, in particular the Saudi Cup, are joining some of the highest profile events in the Kingdom — such as Formula E, the Clash on the Dunes heavyweight boxing bout, the Diriyah Tennis Cup and the Asian Games 2034.

Moreover, Saudi Arabia will host international four and five star showjumping events in Riyadh during the 2020-2021 season, and the Equestrian World Games 2024.

“I was immediately interested as, at the time, we did not have shows that allowed women to compete in Saudi Arabia and it was a fun way to spend the day with my friends, family and horses,” Bandar told Arab News. “I have always been into horses. I really don’t know why or how it started but both my parents rode as children and encouraged me when I expressed interest. I have a lot of family members who owned horses so I have always been around them.”

Bandar believes the Union provides a platform for equestrian lovers to practice their skills, without the pressures that comes with competing at a federation show.

“It’s a great place to come to if you are a beginner, someone with a new horse or even someone wanting to get in extra ‘schooling’ with your horse,” said the 26-year-old. “It’s also important because, a lot of the time, riders spend weekends at shows away from their family and friends, and with Equestrian Union, they can have a day out and enjoy it with their family members and loved ones.”

Alruwaita’s passion for horse-riding began at the age of 15 and alongside a friend, she went on to open “Tack Shack”, an equestrian goods store in Riyadh.

“I loved it,” she said, addressing the changes that have taken place in the Kingdom over the last decade. “Everything changed, the sport itself, the type of competitions and even the riders. Today, we have more competitions, the riders’ levels have improved, and there are more people involved.”

For Binsultan, the success of the Equestrian Union is down to the opportunities have presented themselves in the wake of societal and social change in the Kingdom.

“Everyone can see the reform that Saudi Arabia is going through with the leadership of (the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques) King Salman, and the ambitious vision of the Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman,” Binsultan said. “The vision touches on all aspects of life across all social and economic dimensions, with a strong focus on enhancing the quality of life with a specific focus on human well-being through the promotion of the sports sector. We wish all the best to our Kingdom and hope we can be a part of this optimistic vision.”


Sabalenka wins Madrid Open; Zverev faces Berrettini in final

Sabalenka wins Madrid Open; Zverev faces Berrettini in final
Updated 09 May 2021

Sabalenka wins Madrid Open; Zverev faces Berrettini in final

Sabalenka wins Madrid Open; Zverev faces Berrettini in final
  • It was the second title for Sabalenka this year after winning the season-opener in Abu Dhabi
  • Zverev defeated Dominic Thiem and No. 10-ranked Berrettini beat Casper Ruud in their semifinal matches

MADRID: Aryna Sabalenka is glad she changed her mind about playing at the Madrid Open.
Two weeks after nearly withdrawing from the tournament because of a muscle injury, Sabalenka was standing on center court with the winner’s trophy in her hands on Saturday.
Sabalenka defeated top-ranked Ash Barty 6-0, 3-6, 6-4 for her 10th WTA title — and first on clay.
In the men’s final on Sunday, 2018 champion Alexander Zverev will face eighth-seeded Matteo Berrettini.
Sabalenka’s victory, coming two weeks after she was hurt in a loss to Barty in the Stuttgart final, will move the Belarus player to No. 4 in the world next week.
“To be honest, after the final in Stuttgart I was injured, I couldn’t even move, I really wanted to withdraw from here,” she said. “And I don’t know how, but my team ... the recovery was really good. In four days they made me feel much better. Somehow I’m here standing as the champion of this tournament.”
Sabalenka injured an adductor muscle in the three-set loss in Germany to Barty, who had won all of her three previous finals this year.
It was the second title for Sabalenka this year after winning the season-opener in Abu Dhabi. She also lost to Barty in the Miami quarterfinals.
In the men’s semifinals, Zverev followed his triumph over Rafael Nadal with a win over Dominic Thiem to reach another Madrid Open final. He will face No. 10-ranked Berrettini, who beat Casper Ruud 6-4, 6-4.
No. 6 Zverev defeated No. 4 Thiem 6-3, 6-4 to reach the final again after beating Thiem for the 2018 title. He will be trying to win his second title this year after triumphing in Acapulco in March.
Zverev broke Thiem’s serve once in the first set and twice in the second on the Magic Box center court.
The German has yet to drop a set, including against Nadal in the Friday quarterfinals.
“They’re probably the two clay-courters that you think of right now when you’re thinking about Roland Garros and the biggest chances of winning,” Zverev said of Nadal and Thiem. “Rafa is the favorite no matter what. Probably Novak (Djokovic) second, Dominic a close third. It’s been so far a good week for me. The job is not done yet.”
Berrettini didn’t face a break point as he defeated Ruud to return to a final after winning Belgrade two weeks ago. He will be trying to win his first Masters 1000 final.
“The key today was putting pressure on his serve,” Berrettini said. “I was always trying to get the momentum and attacking even his first serve. I know that he likes to have time, run around the forehand. I tried to do that. It worked out pretty well.”
Thiem was playing in his first tournament since March after consecutive losses in Dubai and Doha. He has mostly struggled since winning the US Open for his first grand slam title.
“In general I’m super happy with the week,” Thiem said. “I would have never expected to be in the semifinals, to play in the semifinals a player like him. I cannot complain about anything. Just, of course, there are many things to improve.”
In the women’s doubles final, Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova, both from the Czech Republic, defeated Gabriela Dabrowski of Canada and Demi Schuurs of France 6-4, 6-3.


Chelsea beat Man City to delay Premier League title party

Chelsea beat Man City to delay Premier League title party
Updated 09 May 2021

Chelsea beat Man City to delay Premier League title party

Chelsea beat Man City to delay Premier League title party
  • Tuchel’s in-form team score 2-1 victory as Alonso bundles in the winner in dying seconds

LONDON: Chelsea forced Manchester City to put their Premier League title party on hold on Saturday, winning 2-1 to strengthen their grip on a top-four place as Liverpool kept their Champions League qualification hopes alive.
Victory for City in a rehearsal for the Champions League final would have confirmed them as English champions for the third time in four years but they must wait for their inevitable coronation.
Hundreds of City fans had gathered outside the empty Etihad Stadium hoping to spur their team on to victory.
As supporters spilled into the road and blue flares were lit, the coaches carrying the players needed to slow down to get through the crowds as they made their way to the ground.
Pep Guardiola's men were on the right track when Raheem Sterling gave them the lead but Hakim Ziyech levelled in the second half and Marcos Alonso grabbed the winner in the dying seconds.
Sergio Aguero could have made his side's task much easier on the stroke of half-time but saw his casual Panenka spot-kick easily saved by Edouard Mendy, with Guardiola turning away in frustration.
The win lifts the Londoners into third spot above Leicester and six points clear of fifth-placed West Ham with just three games left for Thomas Tuchel's side.
Outgoing champions Liverpool beat Southampton 2-0 in the late kick-off to stay in the mix for the top four but a 3-1 defeat at Leeds was a hammer blow for managerless Tottenham.
Guardiola was frustrated at the manner of his side's defeat -- just their fifth loss of the season -- but they have a huge 13-point lead over second-placed Manchester United.
"We missed our chance in the last minute of the first half for the penalty, but we were in a good position," he told Sky Sports.
"We conceded a goal, suffered for 15 minutes, then reacted well, but in the end they scored."
On the missed spot-kick, Guardiola said: "I have always said to him (Aguero), take one decision and take it full convincing, so he decided to do it this way. I have nothing to add."
Tuchel's in-form team ended City's dreams of a historic quadruple by beating them in the FA Cup semi-final last month and they once again proved tricky opponents.
Guardiola made nine changes from the side that saw off Paris Saint-Germain in midweek while Chelsea made five changes following their triumph over Real Madrid.
Sterling broke the deadlock shortly before half-time, tucking home after a poor touch from Aguero following a pass from Gabriel Jesus.
City should have gone into the break two goals in front after Jesus won a spot-kick when he was bundled over by Billy Gilmour but Argentine striker Aguero squandered the chance.
As the second half wore on the visitors started to establish a foothold and they equalised just after the hour mark when Cesar Azpilicueta picked out Ziyech, who drilled home from the edge of the area.
The finish was frantic. Chelsea substitute Callum Hudson-Odoi had a goal ruled out for a marginal offside before Sterling had a penalty appeal turned down.
Alonso slotted home the winner in stoppage time after Timo Werner pulled the ball back to complete the turnaround but City could be crowned champions as early as Sunday, if Aston Villa beat United.
Tuchel admitted the match would have had a different complexion if Aguero had converted from the spot.
"If they score the penalty maybe it is over before it starts -- at 2-0 you have no chance to come back," the Chelsea boss said.
"I was impressed by the reaction and the performance in the second half. If you want to steal all three points here after being down, you need a bit of luck, decisions from the referee."
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp was delighted to see his team back to winning ways following two costly draws, with Sadio Mane and Thiago Alcantara both finding the net at Anfield.
Speaking about his side being in the race for the top four, he told the BBC: "We are, kind of. It's not impossible but it's difficult. We will give it a try and see where we get to."
Earlier, Crystal Palace beat already relegated Sheffield United 2-0.


Stalemate between Atletico and Barca hands advantage to Real Madrid

Stalemate between Atletico and Barca hands advantage to Real Madrid
Updated 09 May 2021

Stalemate between Atletico and Barca hands advantage to Real Madrid

Stalemate between Atletico and Barca hands advantage to Real Madrid
  • Four wins from their last four games will now be enough for Zinedine Zidane's side to retain their La Liga crown, with a crunch game at home to fourth-placed Sevilla up first on Sunday

MADRID: Barcelona and Atletico Madrid knew victory could fire them towards the La Liga title but Saturday's 0-0 draw at Camp Nou handed Real Madrid the chance to go top.
Four wins from their last four games will now be enough for Zinedine Zidane's side to retain their La Liga crown, with a crunch game at home to fourth-placed Sevilla up first on Sunday.
The first part of a blockbuster weekend in the Spanish title race pitched first against third but neither could take a decisive step forward, despite the best attempts of Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, who faced each other for the first time since Suarez departed last summer.
A point each leaves Atletico three points clear of Real Madrid, who have a game in hand and also the superior head-to-head over both Atleti and Barcelona.
Barca remain two points off the top but their chances took the biggest hit, given they now need both Atletico and Real Madrid to slip up in the final stretch.
Anything can still happen because of what we've seen so far," said Gerard Pique. "If Madrid wins their four games they will be champions, but it is difficult for the big teams to be consistent. If we win all our three games, I think we'll have a chance."
Atletico will be disappointed too, given they spurned a number of chances in during a dominant first half, before Ronald Koeman's side recovered in the second.
Jan Oblak had to deny Messi after a vintage run forward from the Argentine, who then had a well-placed free-kick in the last minute, only for Atletico to watch the ball spin inches wide.
"We started better and they finished a little better," Oblak said. "Real Madrid has four games left but for sure they are going to be tought games. We have to keep going."
Diego Simeone said on Friday Suarez had been "vindicated" since being forced to leave Barcelona, his 19 goals making him top scorer for the team.
Koeman admitted it would be "strange" for everyone, including Messi, who sent a heartfelt open letter to his former team-mate, neighbour and best friend last year.
The pair shared a few words in the centre circle before kick-off after the Camp Nou stadium announcer had already beamed that Suarez "will always be welcome".
But, in truth, the Uruguayan was not at his ruthless best as a handful of openings went unconverted in a contest full of chances but that lacked precision when it mattered most.
Messi was repeatedly knocked over in the opening few minutes before Gerard Pique went through the back of Suarez, both teams scrapping for control.
Atletico slowly took charge, helped by the departure of Sergio Busquets, who was replaced by Ilaix Moriba after a clash of heads that meant he had to be taken to hospital for tests.
Without Busquets, Barcelona were rudderless for a while and the Atletico chances came thick and fast.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen had to palm away Marcos Llorente's shot and then stick out a foot to deny Suarez from the angle.
Suarez then tried to nod in the rebound after a winding run from Yannick Carrasco before claiming a penalty after feeling a flick of Ter Stegen's hand across his head.
Barcelona were rattled, the usually steady Ter Stegen booting one ball straight into the stands, only for Messi to give Atletico a reality check, his driving run past six chasers opening the space for a shot, but Oblak tipped it wide.
Felipe fired over from a well-worked Atleti short corner before half-time but Barca were better after the break, with both Ilaix and Pique going close shortly after the hour.
Both coaches made changes, hoping to inspire a winner. Ousmane Dembele was one of them and he should have grabbed it with six minutes left but headed over from six yards in perhaps the best chance of the game.
Messi could have won it at the end, standing over the ball with a free-kick placed centrally and 25 yards out. Atletico held their breath, the ball whistling just wide of Oblak's post.


Mueller hails Bayern Munich’s ‘phenomenal’ ninth league title in a row

Mueller hails Bayern Munich’s ‘phenomenal’ ninth league title in a row
Updated 08 May 2021

Mueller hails Bayern Munich’s ‘phenomenal’ ninth league title in a row

Mueller hails Bayern Munich’s ‘phenomenal’ ninth league title in a row
  • Bayern were confirmed champions before kick-off after Borussia Dortmund's 3-2 win at home to second-placed RB Leipzig earlier in the day
  • "Nine titles in a row, that's crazy. And I was there each time," said Mueller

MUNICH: Thomas Mueller hailed Bayern Munich’s “phenomenal” achievement after they were confirmed Bundesliga champions for the ninth season in a row on Saturday.
Robert Lewandowski grabbed a hat-trick in a 6-0 thrashing of Borussia Moenchengladbach at the Allianz Arena in Munich.
Bayern were confirmed champions even before kick-off after Borussia Dortmund’s 3-2 win at home to second-placed RB Leipzig earlier in the day sent the title to Munich.
“Nine titles in a row, that’s crazy. And I was there each time. I’m very grateful for that,” said Mueller, 31, who now holds the joint record of 10 Bundesliga titles with team-mate David Alaba.
“It shows the development of this club over the years.
“It’s phenomenal, it’s a huge amount of work every year with a great team.”
Head coach Hansi Flick has now won seven titles in 18 months, but will leave to be replaced by RB Leipzig boss Julian Nagelsmann next season.
“That performance was worthy of champions,” said Flick.
Mueller scored Bayern’s second goal while Kingsley Coman and Leroy Sane also got on the scoresheet alongside Lewandowski, who now has 39 league goals this season, one short of Gerd Mueller’s all-time Bundesliga record.
“We wanted to show on the pitch that we are German champions,” said Lewandowski, who insisted he will “keep stepping on the gas” as he chases Mueller’s record with two games left.
Flick says Lewandowski is writing himself into the club’s folklore.
“Gerd Mueller was my idol when I was young, but what Gerd Mueller was in my youth, Lewandowski is today,” he said.
“If he manages the record, it will have been more than deserved.”
Club captain Manuel Neuer admitted it was a “bizarre situation” to be crowned champions while still warming up.
“We were just getting ready, there are a few TVs in the dressing rooms,” said the Germany goalkeeper.
“We realized that we had become champions and started congratulating each other.”
Thomas Mueller, a one-club wonder who won his first Bundesliga title with Bayern back in 2009/10, said he never dreamed of such success when he joined the Bavarian giants as a schoolboy.
“When you play here as a little boy, you don’t think you’ll ever play in the first team at FC Bayern. You’re just happy when you get tickets for home games,” he quipped.


Valencia fans protest against Singaporean owner Peter Lim

Valencia fans protest against Singaporean owner Peter Lim
Updated 08 May 2021

Valencia fans protest against Singaporean owner Peter Lim

Valencia fans protest against Singaporean owner Peter Lim
  • Supporters of Valencia club called for the wealthy businessman to sell his shares and leave the club he has owned since 2014
  • Fans have been upset with recent comments by owner Peter Lim that belittled the supporters and downplayed their importance

MADRID: Thousands of Valencia fans gathered outside the team’s Mestalla Stadium to protest against Singaporean owner Peter Lim on Saturday.
Supporters of the Spanish club called for the wealthy businessman to sell his shares and leave the club he has owned since 2014.
The fans, who displayed banners saying “The future is ours,” have been upset with recent comments by Lim that belittled the supporters and downplayed their importance.
Valencia fans have been unhappy with Lim’s administration and often accuse him of running the club solely as a business.
The protests came a few days after Manchester United fans protested against American owner Joel Glazer, forcing the postponement of the team’s English Premier League game against Liverpool. The protests prompted Glazer to publish a letter in which he pledged to accelerate discussions with fans about supporters being able to have a greater say at the club.
Valencia plays a Spanish league match against Valladolid at home on Sunday. The club sits 14th in the 20-team standings, six points above the relegation zone.