Saudi women’s sport grows by leaps and bounds

Saudi women’s sport grows by leaps and bounds
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Saudi cyclist Maya Jambi rides her bicycle past the Corniche Mosque in Jeddah on Saturday. The event was held to observe International Women’s Day. (AP)
Saudi women’s sport grows by leaps and bounds
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Updated 08 March 2021

Saudi women’s sport grows by leaps and bounds

Saudi women’s sport grows by leaps and bounds
  • Our programs today are all about diversity and inclusion, says sports minister

DUBAI: With every passing week, more and more Saudi women are taking major strides across sporting arenas in the Kingdom.
Their progress, slow at first, has become a deluge.
It was only in 2017 that women were allowed inside stadiums to watch football. But November of last year saw the launch of the 24-team Women’s Football League, which was won by Challenge Riyadh.
The first Saudi female referee, Sham Al-Ghamdi, is rising through the ranks. There are Saudi fencers and show jumpers stepping up to compete at levels previously reserved only for men. Boxing is starting to attract Saudi women into the ring. In motorsports there are the likes of rally driver Dania Akeel pushing boundaries. And only last week, during the Formula E season opener at Diriyah, the first Saudi motorsports woman driver, Reema Juffali, announced that she had signed for Douglas Motorsport in the BRDC British F3 Championship.
These are not cosmetic, or isolated, changes, but ones opening doors for the next generation of Saudi female athletes. It is encouraging, as we celebrate International Women’s Day, that genuine progress is being made at grass-roots level upward, and will only increase in the coming weeks, months and years.
Just as important is what is taking place at the highest levels of sporting institutions in Saudi Arabia. Female representation at sporting federations and inside boardrooms has blossomed in line with Vision 2030, slowly banishing outdated notions of women’s place in sports.
“Any change will face some resistance, whether it’s women participating in sports or others,” Saudi Sports Minister Prince Abdul Aziz Turki Al-Faisal said in a recent interview with Arab News. “Our programs today with the Ministry of Sports are all about diversity and inclusion and we had to make sure that everyone is involved in all of our programs. To shed light about certain things and how this has evolved toward positive things, in 2015 we had zero national female teams. Today, we have 23 national teams that are participating in the name of the country.”
“We had 32 federations in 2017, today we have 64 federations; 38 of them have female board members that represent female sports within these federations,” he said. “There’s a lot of changes that have happened within the ecosystem of sports.”
The minister drew attention to the period of time that has seen these changes and said that this had to go hand-in-hand with societal and cultural awakening.

HIGHLIGHTS

• It was only in 2017 that women were allowed inside stadiums to watch football.

• November of last year saw the launch of the 24-team Women’s Football League, which was won by Challenge Riyadh.

• The first Saudi female referee, Sham Al-Ghamdi, is rising through the ranks.

“These things were unheard of in the past and now they are happening and they are finding support from the players and their families,” Prince Abdul Aziz said.
“Things are changing, and things are changing to the positive, and we have to make sure that they change in the right way with the right momentum to make sure that we put the right steps in and for it to be sustainable for the future. We don’t want to do one thing today and regret doing it in the next two or three years.”
To avoid such potential missteps, measures have been taken to ensure the right female representation has been put in place across the Kingdom in recent years.
One of the most prominent has been the appointment of Shaima Saleh Al-Husseini as the managing director of the Saudi Sports for All Federation (SFA) in March 2019. The work that she oversaw in 2020 has proved monumental.
During the lockdowns of 2020, as the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic spread throughout the world, the SFA played a major part in maintaining physical and mental well-being among the homebound Saudi population.
The digital national health and wellness campaign, Baytak Nadeek (Your Home, Your Gym) saw 3.8 million Saudis join in a matter of weeks, while other initiatives such as the Women’s Fitness Festival attracted thousands of participants through social media channels. The latter was staged as part of the SFA’s focus on increasing health and wellness across all segments of Saudi society through education, events, activations and public awareness campaigns.
Crowning a challenging year was the launch of the Women’s Football League (WFL) across Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam.
“Empowering women comes through positive and proactive programs like the WFL that have been conceptualized to continue to have a lasting impact on health, fitness and wellbeing,” Al-Husseini said. “The SFA, committed to putting women at the forefront of our mission to grow Saudi Arabia’s healthy and active community, continues to engage public and private-sector stakeholders to realize this aim together.”
Such tangible achievements in the field of women’s empowerment stand in stark contrast to some of the scandals taking place elsewhere.
Recent weeks have seen calls for the resignation of Yoshiro Mori, the head of the Tokyo Olympics organizing committee, after he made derogatory remarks about women, saying that they talked too much and that meetings with female board directors would “take a lot of time.”
Such words would be unacceptable in Saudi Arabia today.
Acclaim for the fundamental work being undertaken to include women in sports from grass roots level to boardroom level may have been slow in coming from abroad.
Inside Saudi Arabia, however, the role women are playing is there for all to see and appreciate.

 


Mo Salah announced as new Egypt captain

Mo Salah announced as new Egypt captain
Updated 19 April 2021

Mo Salah announced as new Egypt captain

Mo Salah announced as new Egypt captain
  • National team head coach Hossam El-Badry has named Mohamed Salah the new captain of Egypt
  • El-Badry said it was vital to introduce more stability to the national team squad, including on the leadership side

Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah has been announced as the new captain of Egypt’s national team by head coach Hossam El-Badry.

The news was posted in a statement on the Egyptian Football Association (EFA) Facebook page. Senior players in the Egypt squad were asked about the decision and gave their full support.

El-Badry said that it was “vital to introduce more stability” to the national team, including on the leadership side.

He added that the main goal for EFA technical teams in the coming months is to ensure that Egypt qualifies for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Salah has been one of Liverpool’s most succesful players since joining in summer 2017. He helped the club secure a sixth Champions League title by scoring the opening goal in the final against Tottenham in 2019.

A year later, he played a key role in the team that won Liverpool’s first English Premier League title in 30 years.

The 28-year-old forward, who has also represented Arab Contractors, Basel, Chelsea, Fiorentina and Roma, helped Egypt qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, the country’s first appearance in the competition since 1990.

An infamous shoulder injury in the 2018 Champions League Final against Real Madrid, however, meant that he only played a peripheral role when the World Cup began in Russia. Despite lacking fitness and form, he managed to score Egypt’s only two goals in a disappointing tournament for the African nation.


Mahdi Ali praises Al-Hilal after his injury-hit Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai team suffered AFC Champions League loss

Mahdi Ali praises Al-Hilal after his injury-hit Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai team suffered AFC Champions League loss
Updated 19 April 2021

Mahdi Ali praises Al-Hilal after his injury-hit Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai team suffered AFC Champions League loss

Mahdi Ali praises Al-Hilal after his injury-hit Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai team suffered AFC Champions League loss
  • The Emirati club now finds itself at the bottom of Group A after two rounds of matches

DUBAI: Shabab Al-Ahli coach Mahdi Ali has blamed his team’s long list of absentees for the 3-1 defeat to Al-Hilal, at the same time giving credit to the Saudi team and promising that he and his players will be doing their best to turn around their fortunes in the remaining AFC Champions League group stage matches.

Having drawn 0-0 in the opening match against Istiklol of Tajikistan, Shabab Al-Ahli was comfortably beaten by the Saudi champions at Prince Faisal bin Fahad Stadium in Riyadh and now finds itself bottom of Group A.

"I congratulate Al-Hilal, who played a good match and deserved to win,” Mahdi Ali said.

“For us, we were missing a number of players due to injuries, and we also suffered from a lot of intercepted passes, which made things more difficult for us."

“This is football and we hope that we will make up for that in the next match,” he added.

“We had the desire to compensate and we continued to try until the final minutes, when we wasted two chances. We suffered physically because the team has played a large number of domestic matches over the last month, as we are competing in many competitions, and we were also affected by the circumstances of the month of Ramadan.”

“We must put this match behind us and start thinking about the next one, as our chances (of qualification to the next round) are still alive with four matches remaining for the team, but we must work to avoid the mistakes that happened in the match.”

The third round of group stage matches will be played on Wednesday, when the Shabab Al-Ahli will meet with AGMK of Uzbekistan, while Al-Hilal will take on Istiklol.

On Thursday, the first round had seen Al-Hilal draw 2-2 with AGMK while Istiklol played out a stalemate with Shabab Al-Ahli.

Only the top team from each group is guaranteed progress to the knock-out stages, with the six second-placed teams with the best records joining them.


Tottenham fires manager Jose Mourinho

Tottenham fires manager Jose Mourinho
Updated 19 April 2021

Tottenham fires manager Jose Mourinho

Tottenham fires manager Jose Mourinho
  • Mourinho took over in November 2019
  • His firing comes with seventh-place Tottenham outside the Champions League places but with a League Cup final against Manchester City on Sunday

LONDON: Tottenham has fired manager Jose Mourinho, a person with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press on Monday.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision has not yet been made public by Tottenham.
Mourinho took over in November 2019. His firing comes with seventh-place Tottenham outside the Champions League places but with a League Cup final against Manchester City on Sunday.


5 talking points from Saudi clubs’ return to form in AFC Champions League group stage

5 talking points from Saudi clubs’ return to form in AFC Champions League group stage
Updated 19 April 2021

5 talking points from Saudi clubs’ return to form in AFC Champions League group stage

5 talking points from Saudi clubs’ return to form in AFC Champions League group stage
  • Second round of matches sees wins for Al-Hilal, Al-Nassr while Al-Ahli recover from mauling to claim first point

RIYADH: Two down and four to go. The group stage of the AFC Champions League is starting to take shape and already there are teams that have an awful lot to do if they are to maintain their presence in the tournament going into the knockout stage.

Some are looking good and the feeling around the Al-Nassr camp has improved massively after a 3-1 win over Al-Sadd, one of the favorites for the competition. Al-Hilal collected three points with a comfortable 2-0 win over Shabab Al-Ahli while Al-Ahli bounced back from their opening game mauling to take a 1-1 draw with Al-Duhail.

Here are five things we learned from the second round of matches.

1. Menezes gives Xavi a coaching lesson

Al-Sadd had not lost for 24 games heading into the clash with Al-Nassr. They won the Qatar Stars League without losing a game and with a goal difference of plus 63, which is incredible enough, but when the season is just 22 games long it really is something special. Yet Al-Nassr fully deserved to win.

Abderrazak Hamdallah scored the opening goal from the spot, but after Santi Cazorla equalized on the hour, the Saudi team’s players kept their nerve, their shape, and their discipline and hit the erratic Qatari team on the counter thanks to the intelligent movement and hard work of their forward line.

With the help of two well-timed substitutions, it was a strategy that bore fruit and two goals followed that put the hosts in with a great chance of the second round.

Al-Nassr coach Mano Menezes has not had much time to work with the players but on this performance, there should be more to come even if fans should not get carried away by being the first team to defeat Al-Sadd this year.

2. Al-Breik stars for clinical Al-Hilal

After a somewhat disappointing opening game, Al-Hilal stepped it up a level against Shabab Al-Ahli.

Star foreign players Bafetimbi Gomis and Andre Carrillo grabbed the headlines with their very well-taken goals in the first half but Mohammed Al-Breik deserves plenty of credit. The Saudi international created both in a perfect example of how a right-back should get forward in the modern game.

The first was a delicious cross that was whipped in behind the Dubai team’s defense with Gomis on hand to sweep home from close range. The second came from deeper but found Carrillo in space just inside the area and the Peruvian international made no mistake with a fine swivel and shot. Both goals were easy on the eye and the defender played a huge part.

3. Al-Owais, Al-Somah give Al-Ahli hope

After seven straight defeats, a 1-1 draw will lift some of the gloom surrounding the Jeddah club. It was snatched in the final minutes against Al-Duhail who had largely dominated proceedings.

The Qataris struggled however to find a way past Mohammed Al-Owais. The goalkeeper dealt with everything that was thrown at him to keep the score line down to a minimum. Shot after shot came in and there he was tipping deflections over the bar and getting down well to push headers around the foot of the post.

It was due to such heroics that Omar Al-Somah’s last-gasp goal, which came after an overhead kick assist from defender Motaz Hawsawi, earned a much-needed point to break that dismal losing streak.

4. Strikers come to the fore

It may well be that none of the Saudi teams are firing on all cylinders at the moment, but it will be pleasing to fans that their star strikers have all scored already.

If Al-Hilal are going to go all the way and get a record fourth title, then they are going to need the goals of Gomis, and the French forward is looking hungry and dangerous.

Hamdallah was one of the stars of the 2020 tournament and while the Moroccan has not looked as lethal this year, to get on the scoresheet will be an immense relief for both player and coach. Al-Nassr need him if they are to get out of a difficult group.

And then there is Al-Somah. There has been a lot written about the Syrian striker this season but whatever has happened behind the scenes, three goals in two games speaks for itself. If one of the best strikers in Asia continues to score, then Al-Ahli have a chance.

5. Next comes the crunch

The next two games can make or break a team’s chances as they come against the same opposition. Al-Nassr are level on four points with Foolad of Iran. If the Riyadh giants can come out on top over these back-to-back clashes, then they really can start to think about the next stage.

Al-Hilal take on Tajikistan powerhouse Istiklol who are going to make things very tough. The new boys in the competition have also managed four points from the opening two games thanks to some solid defending. Al-Hilal have the firepower however and can take control of the group.

And as for Al-Ahli, there are twin games with Al-Shorta of Iraq. These will not be easy, even if Al-Shorta are regarded as the weakest team in the group, but they do offer a perfect chance to pick up a win and start challenging at the top of the table.


European soccer split as 12 clubs launch breakaway Super League

European soccer split as 12 clubs launch breakaway Super League
Updated 19 April 2021

European soccer split as 12 clubs launch breakaway Super League

European soccer split as 12 clubs launch breakaway Super League
  • Real Madrid president Florentino Perez would be the founding chairman of the Super League
  • UEFA has threatened to bar from any competition clubs who join the breakaway league

LONDON: A group of 12 elite English, Spanish and Italian clubs dramatically split European soccer on Sunday by announcing the formation of a largely-closed Super League. They are leaving the existing UEFA-run Champions League structure despite warnings they could be kicked out of their domestic competitions and face legal action.
The seismic move to shake up the world’s biggest sport is partly engineered by the American owners of Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United who also run US franchises in closed leagues — a model they are trying to replicate in Europe.
The power-play came after the rebel clubs reneged on a promise on Friday to back the plan by UEFA — European football’s governing body — to expand the Champions League beginning in 2024. The deal was designed to appease their wishes for more games, seemingly because they couldn’t control the sale of rights to the existing competition.
The Super League plan was first leaked in January but re-emerged this weekend.
Real Madrid president Florentino Perez would be the founding chairman of the SL, which said it “intended to commence as soon as practicable” as a 20-team competition playing in midweek like the current Champions League and Europa League.
“We will help football at every level and take it to its rightful place in the world,” Perez said in a statement. “Football is the only global sport in the world with more than four billion fans and our responsibility as big clubs is to respond to their desires.”
No evidence was presented that supporters want a Super League. Fan groups across Europe last week criticized even the current Champions League expansion plan as a “power grab.”
Only 12 clubs have signed up for now — with none from France or Germany — but the SL hopes for three more as permanent members. Barcelona and Atletico Madrid are the other founding members, along with Juventus, AC Milan and Inter Milan. Five slots would be left open to be determined each year based on the previous season’s results.
UEFA warned clubs that joining the “cynical project” based on self-interest would see them banned from playing in any other competition — domestic, European or global. It said their players could be denied the opportunity to represent their national teams.
The statement was issued jointly with the leagues and national governing bodies from England, Spain and Italy.
England has the most clubs with the six including Chelsea and Manchester City, who are due to contest a Champions League semifinals this month. Also included is Tottenham, which is outside of the Premier League’s top four to qualify for the Champions League next season,
“By bringing together the world’s greatest clubs and players to play each other throughout the season, the Super League will open a new chapter for European football, ensuring world-class competition and facilities, and increased financial support for the wider football pyramid,” said Joel Glazer, co-owner of Manchester United and SL vice chairman.
Another vice chairman of the new competition would be Andrea Agenlli who on Sunday night quit his role as chairman of the European Club Association, which was working with UEFA on enlarging the Champions League to 36 teams. Agenlli also resigned as a member of the executive committee of UEFA — rupturing his previously-close friendship with the governing body’s president, Aleksander Ceferin.
The UEFA leader has been determined not to grant more control of the sale of television and commercial rights to the clubs.
“We have come together at this critical moment,” Agnelli said, “enabling European competition to be transformed, putting the game we love on a sustainable footing for the long-term future, substantially increasing solidarity, and giving fans and amateur players a regular flow of headline fixtures.”
The rebel clubs are all members of the ECA which has a working agreement with UEFA, signed in 2019, which commits all its members to take part in and respect the Champions League and other European competitions through the 2023-24 season.
While FIFA issued a statement in January warning that players in a Super League could be banned from the World Cup, the world governing body has not denied that its president, Gianni Infantino, has been involved in the breakaway talks with officials, including Real Madrid’s Perez.
“FIFA can only express its disapproval to a ‘closed European breakaway league’ outside of the international football structures,” the world body said in a statement on Sunday while not answering questions about any role by Infantino.
The Premier League said the Super League would “undermine the appeal of the whole game” by going against the principles of open competition. There was even an intervention by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who warned that a Super League would be “very damaging.”
The Super League confirmed on Sunday that each of the 15 founding members would get a share of at least 3.5 billion euros ($4.2 billion) in initial infrastructure grants.
The AP previously reported that this money would be split among four tiers of clubs, with the top six each getting 350 million euros ($420 million). The competition would begin with two groups of 10 teams, with the top three from each group advancing to the quarterfinals. The teams finishing fourth and fifth would be involved in a playoff to complete the last-eight lineup. The knockout phase would still feature two-legged quarterfinals and semifinals before a single fixture final.
The previously-reported Super League proposal hoped to generate 4 billion euros ($4.86 billion) annually from broadcasters.
In comparison, UEFA said the total commercial revenue was 3.25 billion euros ($3.9 billion) for each of the past three seasons from selling the rights to the Champions League, Europa League and UEFA Super Cup.
For the 2021-24 sales cycle, UEFA is expected to sell around $14 billion in broadcast and sponsor deals for its club competitions, which includes the new third-tier Europa Conference League.
Those sales were completed worldwide on the legal commitment of top clubs to play according to the UEFA-ECA accord. Any breach of the cooperation deal would likely lead to legal threats and suits.
“We will consider all measures available to us, at all levels, both judicial and sporting in order to prevent this happening,” UEFA said of the Super League. “Football is based on open competitions and sporting merit; it cannot be any other way.”