Prince Khalid says Saudi Arabia ‘ideal fit for Extreme E’ as inaugural race in AlUla edges closer

Prince Khalid says Saudi Arabia ‘ideal fit for Extreme E’ as inaugural race in AlUla edges closer
First ever Extreme E rally event will take place on the desert trails of AlUla. (Extreme E)
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Updated 18 March 2021

Prince Khalid says Saudi Arabia ‘ideal fit for Extreme E’ as inaugural race in AlUla edges closer

Prince Khalid says Saudi Arabia ‘ideal fit for Extreme E’ as inaugural race in AlUla edges closer
  • Saudi Automobile and Motorcyle Federation chairman reiterates commitment to protecting environment
  • First Extreme E rally event to take place on April 3-4

DUBAI: The latest international motorsports event to take place in Saudi Arabia is now just over two weeks away, with the FIA-backed Extreme E rally’s inaugural race due to be held in the desert terrain of AlUla on April 3-4.

The new electric vehicle competition will pit 10 teams and 20 drivers against each other on the sand dunes of AlUla over two days, with qualifying on Friday and the main Desert X Prix on Saturday.

It will be Extreme E’s first-ever outing after years in the planning and will feature leading drivers, including Jenson Button and Carlos Sainz, among a field of world-class male and female competitors.

The rally season’s major objective is to highlight the climate change challenges faced by ecosystems around the world, while showcasing the performance of all-electric SUVs in extreme conditions.

In AlUla, the tour will highlight the impact of desertification, before continuing on to the stunning backdrops of Senegal, Greenland, Brazil and Argentina to continue spreading the message while pushing drivers and their teams to their limits.

For Saudi Arabia, the hosting of Extreme E marks another motor racing milestone.

Having hosted desert rallies for more than half a century, the Kingdom welcomed its first FIA-backed street race with the Formula E Diriyah E-Prix in 2019 — a race that has since been held over two weekends since, most recently just last month.

In 2020, the Kingdom became the first Middle Eastern nation to host the famous Dakar Rally — “the hardest race in the world” — with competitors snaking across hundreds of miles of desert dunes as they looped round the country from Jeddah over the space of two weeks.

Dakar Saudi returned in January this year, with an even sterner, but just as mesmerizing, route across the Kingdom.

And later this year, Formula One racing will finally come to the Kingdom with the maiden Saudi Arabian Grand Prix taking place in Jeddah.

It is through the tireless work of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcyle Federation (SAMF) that Extreme E will take to the desert next month. It was also through the Federation’s partnerships with Formula E and Rally Dakar that the Kingdom is now host to both the Diriyah E-Prix and Dakar Saudi for 10 years of events, as well as Formula One.

Led by chairman Prince Khalid Bin Sultan Al-Abdullah Al-Faisal, SAMF illustrated to Alejandro Agag, founder and CEO of Extreme E, the high levels of popularity of motorsports across Saudi Arabia. They also highlighted the ambitions of Saudi Vision 2030 and the Quality of Life program, as well as the Kingdom’s desire to implement green initiatives where possible.

“We feel the Kingdom is an ideal fit for Extreme E due to our forward thinking and original approach to the new Saudi Arabia we are aiming for under the goals of Vision 2030,” Prince Khalid said.

“Under Vision 2030, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman seeks to create a vibrant society in which all citizens can fulfil their dreams, hopes and ambitions to succeed in a thriving economy, and we see sport as a key component of that. It goes without saying that Saudis are recognized internationally for the passion and love we have for sport, and perhaps none more so than motorsport.

“We also see need for change and to do all we can to support the environment and our planet,” he added. “That’s at the core of Extreme E’s mission and it gives us enormous pride to be hosting their first ever race in the Kingdom this April. Together, Saudi Arabia’s partnership with Extreme E will bring incredible benefit to the Kingdom, Extreme E, wider motorsports and the care we give to our planet.”

Extreme E will be a monumental event in what is already a phenomenal year of motorsports in Saudi Arabia. Our goal is to inspire through motorsports and to be hosting Dakar Saudi, Formula E, Extreme E and F1 — as well as all our many, hugely loved Saudi-born events — in one year, and for many more years to come, is an incredible achievement and together open the exciting next chapter of motorsports in Saudi Arabia.”

Ten teams are signed up for Season 1 of Extreme E, including three owned by current and former Formula One World Champions, with Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg and Jenson Button founding X44, Rosberg X Racing and JBXE, respectively.

Joining those teams will be ABT CUPRA XE, ACCIONA | Sainz XE Team, Andretti United, Chip Ganassi Racing, Hispano Suiza Xite Energy Team, Team TECHEETAH and Veloce Racing.

The Extreme E driver line-up brings together champions from a variety of motorsport disciplines spanning single-seaters to rallying, rallycross, Dakar and sportscar racing: Mattias Ekstrom and Claudia Hurtgen (ABT CUPRA XE); Carlos Sainz and Laia Sanz (ACCIONA | Sainz XE Team); Timmy Hansen and Catie Munnings (Andretti United); Kyle LeDuc and Sara Price (Chip Ganassi Racing); Oliver Bennett and Christine Giampaoli (Hispano Suiza Xite Energy Team); Jenson Button (JBXE); Johan Kristoffersson and Molly Taylor (Rosberg X Racing); Stephane Sarrazin and Jamie Chadwick (Veloce Racing); and Sebastien Loeb and Cristina Gutierrez (X44).


UEFA Champions League final moved from Istanbul to Porto due to UK-Turkey travel restrictions

The match has been switched to the Estadio do Dragao, home of FC Porto, to allow English spectators to attend as travel between the UK and Turkey is suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic. (Reuters/File Photo)
The match has been switched to the Estadio do Dragao, home of FC Porto, to allow English spectators to attend as travel between the UK and Turkey is suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 13 May 2021

UEFA Champions League final moved from Istanbul to Porto due to UK-Turkey travel restrictions

The match has been switched to the Estadio do Dragao, home of FC Porto, to allow English spectators to attend as travel between the UK and Turkey is suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • The match on May 29 has been switched to the Estadio do Dragao to allow English spectators to attend

PARIS: UEFA announced on Thursday that the Champions League final between Manchester City and Chelsea had been moved from Istanbul to Porto.

The match on May 29 has been switched to the Estadio do Dragao to allow English spectators to attend as travel between the UK and Turkey is suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier, European football’s governing body announced up to 6,000 supporters from each club will be able to attend.

“We accept that the decision of the British Government to place Turkey on the red list for travel was taken in good faith and in the best interests of protecting its citizens from the spread of the virus but it also presented us with a major challenge in staging a final featuring two English teams,” UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin said in a statement.

“After the year that fans have endured, it is not right that they don’t have the chance to watch their teams in the biggest game of the season,” he added.

UK citizens returning from red list countries are required to quarantine at a government-approved hotel for 10 days.

Earlier this week, newspaper reports claimed the match would be played at Wembley Stadium.

Supporters groups from the Blues and City had requested the game be moved to England.

The UK’s Transport secretary Grant Shapps said he would have welcomed the fixture being played in London.

“The difficulties of moving the final are great and the FA and the authorities made every effort to try to stage the match in England and I would like to thank them for their work in trying to make it happen,” Ceferin said.

UEFA said coronavirus rules in the UK made it difficult to hold the fixture in the English capital.

“UEFA discussed moving the match to England but, despite exhaustive efforts on the part of the Football Association and the authorities, it was not possible to achieve the necessary exemptions from UK quarantine arrangements,” it said.

The final capacity at the ground in northern Portugal is still to be set.

Last season’s final as well as a ‘Final 8’ tournament for the quarter-finals were also held in Portugal, but in the capital Lisbon.

“Once again we have turned to our friends in Portugal to help both UEFA and the Champions League and I am, as always, very grateful to the FPF (Portuguese Football Association) and the Portuguese Government for agreeing to stage the match at such short notice,” Ceferin said.

The last round of the country’s top-flight Primeira Liga will see spectators return to stadia on May 19, with a limited number of people permitted, the league said on Wednesday.


Al-Jazira’s winning recipe of sustainable success a lesson for other clubs in region

Al-Jazira’s winning recipe of sustainable success a lesson for other clubs in region
Updated 13 May 2021

Al-Jazira’s winning recipe of sustainable success a lesson for other clubs in region

Al-Jazira’s winning recipe of sustainable success a lesson for other clubs in region
  • The Abu Dhabi side won the Arabian Gulf League with a policy of promoting young players instead of big-money signings

DUBAI: When Al-Jazira announced the signing of the UAE’s most high-profile player Omar Abdulrahman in August of 2019, all talk within the Arabian Gulf League fan bases was of the capital club spending their way to glory.

After all, Al-Jazira were unveiling a player who just three years earlier had been crowned Asia’s best and linked to European moves summer after summer. Lined up alongside him was another stellar signing, albeit less flashy; fellow UAE international midfielder Amer Abdulrahman.

The two would be joining a star-studded squad including the nation’s all-time top scorer Ali Mabkhout, Brazilian winger Kenno and South African international midfielder Thulani Serero.

The arrival of big-name signings was a familiar sight at a club that had over the previous 20 years been home to the likes of George Weah, Phillip Cocu, Mirko Vucinic and Ricardo Oliveira.

Twenty-one months, a global pandemic and a canceled season later, the title did indeed arrive to the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, but Al-Jazira’s path to glory could not have been any different to the expectations of two years earlier.

For starters, both Abdulrahmans have left the club. After failing to establish himself at Al-Jazira, Amer headed to Bani Yas, where he rediscovered his best form, becoming a key cog in a side that pushed his former employers until the last day of a two-horse title race. Omar fared slightly better at Al-Jazira, but a succession of injuries led to his contract termination and he went on to join Shabab Al-Ahli where he is yet to make an appearance in four months.

On the title-deciding night, it was another Omar who stole the headlines with a brace against Khorfakkan. The difference between the two Omars embodied the change of direction over the past 24 months, which culminated with a third league title for the Pride of Abu Dhabi. Omar Traore was scouted and recruited from Stade Malien aged 18. The little-known prospect from West Africa was registered under the “resident player” category, which allows Emirati clubs to register foreign players under the age of 20 outside the standard four-player quota applicable in domestic competitions.

Traore’s Man of the Match performance was just part of a bigger picture as Al-Jazira reaped the rewards of a strategy that saw them switch focus to youth and intelligent recruitment. Of the 11 players who started against Khorfakkan on Tuesday, four were under the age of 23. In fact, Al-Jazira were able to win the league with the youngest squad average age in the entire competition at just 25.2, including nine players under 23 in their squad.

Champions in 2010-11 and 2016-17, this latest Arabian Gulf League success will feel special for many Al-Jazira faithful, with six academy graduates at the core of it. Defenders Mohammed Al-Attas and Khalifa Al-Hammadi have played side by side since the age of 11 and both made their debuts as 17-year-olds. The pair became inseparable, earning their international call-ups and establishing themselves as mainstays for club and country before turning 24.

Then there is Abdullah Ramadan. Born in the UAE to Egyptian parents, the mercurial midfielder shone at every level. After being granted citizenship, he was called up to the national team and excelled for the UAE in the 2020 AFC U23 Championship as the young Whites reached the quarter-finals. That January in Thailand, it was a fellow Al-Jazira academy product who walked away with the Golden Boot; Zayed Al-Ameri has been hailed as the heir to Mabkhout’s throne as the club’s future goal machine.

This shift of direction and subsequent success at Al-Jazira was no coincidence. Sporting Director Mads Davidsen was recruited from Chinese side Shanghai SIPG last year. Earlier this season, he outlined the club’s vision.

“We have described our style of play as a club, that will never change. Even if the coach does change, the style of play, the football philosophy will never change. That is the core of our strategy,” said the Dane.

“A club-defined style of play, club-defined methodology, club-defined recruitment strategy. We look at recruitment differently. We look internally first where most people look externally. Every time you buy a player, it delays someone’s development.”

With the playing style clearly defined, Dutch tactician Marcel Keizer was brought back for a second spell at the club after winning a domestic double with Sporting Lisbon. The 52-year-old built on a legacy of Dutch success at the club, becoming the second Dutchman to win the league title at Al-Jazira after Ten Cate in 2016-17.

The margins might have been fine at the end, with Al-Jazira ending the season just three points ahead of their nearest chasers Bani Yas. But in proving their sustainable success philosophy can deliver results, the Pride of Abu Dhabi have shown other clubs the way forward in a region where short-termism and spending on star names is often perceived as the only sure way to success.


New protocols for public entry to stadiums, sports facilities

New protocols for public entry to stadiums, sports facilities
Updated 13 May 2021

New protocols for public entry to stadiums, sports facilities

New protocols for public entry to stadiums, sports facilities
  • People recorded in the Tawakkalna as "immune" from COVID-19 can now be admitted in sports arenas

JEDDAH: The Saudi Ministry of Sports on Wednesday issued new guidance for mass entry to stadiums and sports facilities, which included a number of important precautionary measures.

The protocols included social distancing and the wearing of masks, in addition to the mechanism for crowd entry and preventing gatherings inside the stands or at the doors.

The new guidance specified the categories of people that will be allowed to attend sports matches, according to what appears in the Tawakkalna app. 

People can be admitted if they are “immune” (having completed both doses of the vaccine), “immune after infection” (having recovered from the virus within the last six months), or “immune by the first dose” (having received the first dose of the vaccine).

Entry will also be permitted for people over seven and under 18, provided that their condition on Tawakkalna app is not “infected.” 

The new list of protocols follows an announcement on March 20, which limited sports match crowds to 40 percent of their total capacity from May 17.

The ministry said it had taken the necessary measures with sports federations and clubs to implement the protocols to ensure the health and safety of everyone. 

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia reported 13 more COVID-19-related deaths on Wednesday. The death toll now stands at 7,111.

The Ministry of Health reported 1,020 new cases, meaning that 429,389 people have now contracted the disease. There are 9,268 active cases, 1,352 of which are in critical condition.

According to the ministry, 342 of the newly recorded cases were in Riyadh, 276 in Makkah, 133 in the Eastern Province and 56 in Madinah.

In addition, 908 patients had recovered from the disease, bringing the total to 413,010 recoveries.

Saudi Arabia has so far conducted 17,740,919 PCR tests, with 71,040 carried out in the past 24 hours.

Saudi health clinics set up by the ministry as testing hubs or treatment centers have helped hundreds of thousands of people around the Kingdom since the outbreak of the pandemic.

Among those testing hubs are Taakad (make sure) centers and Tetamman (rest assured) clinics.

Taakad centers provide COVID-19 testing for those who show no or mild symptoms or believe they have come into contact with an infected individual, while the Tetamman clinics offer treatment and advice to those with virus symptoms, such as fever, loss of taste and smell and breathing difficulties.

Appointments to either service can also be made through the ministry’s Sehhaty app.

Saudis and expats in the Kingdom continue to receive their COVID-19 jabs, with 11,075,209 people inoculated so far.


Serena, playing her 1,000th career match, crashes out of Italian Open

Serena, playing her 1,000th career match, crashes out of Italian Open
Updated 13 May 2021

Serena, playing her 1,000th career match, crashes out of Italian Open

Serena, playing her 1,000th career match, crashes out of Italian Open
  • The early exit is a blow three weeks before the French Open in Paris on May 30

ROME: Serena Williams, playing the 1,000th WTA match of her career, lost on her return after nearly three months away to Nadia Podoroska in the second round of the WTA Italian Open on Wednesday.

The 39-year-old eighth seed fell 7-6 (8/6), 7-5 in under just two hours to the 44th-ranked Argentine, a surprise semifinalist at last year’s Roland Garros.

Williams, a four-time Rome winner and 23-time Grand Slam champion, had not played since her semifinal defeat in the Australian Open this year.

The early exit is a blow three weeks before the French Open in Paris on May 30 where the American continues her bid to equal Australia’s Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam trophies.

Despite a battling performance Williams could not wear down the 24-year-old Argentine who broke the American twice in the first set. Podoroska forced a tiebreak with an ace and squandered three set points before sealing the set.

In the second, Williams was trailing 5-2 but held and broke the Argentine to love while she served for the match to level at 5-5.

Podoroska held her nerve to earn three match points to secure just her third career win over a top-10 player, all in the last eight months.

For Williams it was her 149th defeat, with 851 wins over the course of a WTA career covering 1,000 matches.

But she will not get to celebrate with the Rome public, with spectators only allowed from Thursday’s third round at the Foro Italico while limited to a 25 percent capacity.

Podoroska next meets Croatia’s Petra Martic, who earlier beat France’s Kristina Mladenovic 7-5, 6-3. 


UEFA begins legal battle with Super League holdouts Real, Barca and Juve

UEFA begins legal battle with Super League holdouts Real, Barca and Juve
Updated 13 May 2021

UEFA begins legal battle with Super League holdouts Real, Barca and Juve

UEFA begins legal battle with Super League holdouts Real, Barca and Juve
  • The maximum punishment under UEFA’s disciplinary pathway is a two-year ban from European competition

LAUSANNE: UEFA on Wednesday initiated disciplinary proceedings against Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus, the three clubs yet to renounce the aborted European Super League project.

European football’s governing body has appointed disciplinary inspectors to conduct an investigation regarding a potential violation of UEFA rules by the clubs “in connection with the so-called ‘Super League’ project,”  it announced.

“Further information regarding this matter will be made available in due course.” 

UEFA last week said it would take “appropriate action” against the three clubs who still support the proposed Super League, a competition that would guarantee its founding members involvement every season, instead of having to qualify.

It did not specify the violations that may have been committed, although its statutes prohibit “combinations or alliances” between clubs without the body’s permission.

The maximum punishment under UEFA’s disciplinary pathway is a two-year ban from European competition, while club officials could be banned from any football-related activity.

However, UEFA’s options are clouded by a ruling from a commercial court in Madrid on April 20.

The court banned UEFA and FIFA from making any moves to block a Super League or taking any disciplinary measures against the clubs, players or officials involved.

It is also unclear what penalties the clubs that have withdrawn may owe to the remaining clubs for breaking their agreement to join the Super League.

The Super League was announced on April 18 but two days later it collapsed as the six Premier League clubs withdrew after angry protests from supporters and under pressure from the British government.

Nine of the original 12 clubs have now dropped out.

Tottenham, Arsenal, Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Atletico Madrid, Inter Milan and AC Milan were on Friday given a financial penalty by UEFA for their involvement.

They committed to taking “all steps within their power” to end their involvement in the breakaway league and agreed to participate in UEFA competitions for which they qualify. They also agreed to pay fines of 100 million euros ($121 million) if they ever seek to play in an “unauthorized” competition.

In response, Real, Barca and Juventus continued to defend the Super League proposal and condemned what it termed “threats” from UEFA.

The clubs issued a joint statement that said “the founding clubs have suffered, and continue to suffer, unacceptable third-party pressures (and) threats.”

“This is intolerable under the rule of law,” they added.

The trio said the Super League had been launched “with the aim of providing solutions to the current unsustainable situation in the football industry.”