Israel and UAE rugby teams face off in sporting first after new ties

Israel and UAE rugby teams face off in sporting first after new ties
Israel’s Ward Fawarseh, left, fights for the ball with UAE player during a friendly match in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Friday, March 19, 2021. (AP/Kamran Jebreili)
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Updated 20 March 2021

Israel and UAE rugby teams face off in sporting first after new ties

Israel and UAE rugby teams face off in sporting first after new ties
  • The match came months after the Abraham Accords was signed between Israel and the UAE
  • The 7-a-side friendly was a one-sided match, dominated by the more experienced Israelis

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: In the Middle East, where sport and diplomacy are closely intertwined, political passions can spill over onto the playing field.
With the Palestinian cause the core issue uniting Arabs across the region for decades, Israeli players meeting Arab opponents on the field have learned the age-old conflict always looms. Spectators have thrown shoes and jeered. Egyptians, Saudis and others have refused handshakes or pulled out of matches.
But on Friday, politics played a vastly different role. Months after the United Arab Emirates normalized ties with Israel, an Israeli national rugby squad touched down in Dubai to meet the Emirati team on the field for the first time. The more experienced Israeli team swiftly beat the UAE 33-0 in the first 7-a-side friendly match, held without crowds because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The rugby players and few spectators rose as Hatikvah, the Israeli national anthem, blared over the grassy field and through rows of skyscrapers. The players shook hands, slapped backs and bumped fists over a thumping electronic beat.
Emirati players seemed uncomfortable only when asked about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While the UAE and Israel were never at war and for years cultivated covert ties, the federation of seven sheikhdoms formally considered Israel an enemy.
Following the establishment of formal ties last year, the public blowback in the UAE has been muted if not absent. Palestinians, for their part, have lambasted the Israel-UAE normalization as a betrayal of their cause for statehood.
“We don’t think about whether Israel is a good country or a bad country,” said Ibrahim Doree, an Emirati player, his face glistening with sweat after the game. “We just follow our leaders,” he added, declining to discuss the conflict before rushing to meet the Israelis for a barbecue dinner in the desert.
The Israelis were more emotional. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin beamed onto the field with a dramatic speech about friendship.
“This is insane, insane,” said Israeli player Ori Abutbul, shaking his head in disbelief. “I have no words when people ask me how I feel.”
Already, sport has become key to new Israeli-Emirati ties. Hamad bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, a member of the Abu Dhabi ruling family, purchased a 50% stake in Beitar Jerusalem, a club notorious for its racist fan base and refusal to have an Arab player on its roster. However, reports questioning the sheikh’s finances have since put the deal on hold.
Signs of friction have emerged in the countries’ diplomatic relations, too, with the UAE resisting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s attempts to entangle the country in his campaign for re-election.
But on the field Friday, Emirati team captain Younes Al-Blooshi said he didn’t want to talk about the region’s political intrigues and rivalries. He expressed relief, however, that certain old rifts were beginning to heal. Earlier this year, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries announced the end to a yearslong boycott of Qatar.
Throughout the bitter dispute, the UAE rugby team played in Qatar, but “it was pretty difficult,” Al-Blooshi acknowledged, declining to elaborate.
“Thankfully, things are all clear now,” he said, noting the team would be flying direct to Doha in May, a first since 2017 when the boycott closed borders.
Israel, meanwhile, will return to competing against European countries, with the 2021 European Rugby Championship Cup beginning next month.


Hungary gets 1-match fan ban, $217,000 FIFA fine for racism

Hungary gets 1-match fan ban, $217,000 FIFA fine for racism
Updated 21 September 2021

Hungary gets 1-match fan ban, $217,000 FIFA fine for racism

Hungary gets 1-match fan ban, $217,000 FIFA fine for racism
  • Monkey chants were aimed at England forward Raheem Sterling and unused substitute Jude Bellingham on Sept. 2
  • The Hungarian federation was fined 200,000 Swiss francs

LONDON: Hungary was ordered by FIFA on Tuesday to play its next World Cup qualifier without spectators as punishment for the latest racial abuse by its supporters when England played in Budapest.
Monkey chants were aimed at England forward Raheem Sterling and unused substitute Jude Bellingham, who are Black, at Puskas Arena on Sept. 2.
The Hungarian federation was also fined 200,000 Swiss francs ($217,000), one of the largest financial penalties handed out to a country by the world governing body.
In a sign of a systemic problem with racism from Hungarian fans, the punishment extends the country’s run of games in empty stadiums because of racism in qualifiers for the 2014 and 2022 World Cups and Euro 2016.
The team will have to play another FIFA match without a crowd if there are future incidents of abuse, with the second match of the punishment being suspended for a probationary period of two years.
“The FIFA ban on Hungary for racism and the huge fine is welcome and a signal from FIFA of a renewed determination to punish racism,” Piara Powar, executive director of the anti-racism FARE network, told The Associated Press. “But this also means that Hungary will serve bans from two different football governing bodies at European and international level at the same time, the principle of escalation has not been applied, it will not deal with the problem of racism inside Hungarian stadiums longer term.”
Hungary’s Sept. 2 match against England in Budapest would already have been played without spectators had FIFA been asked to implement a UEFA punishment t for discriminatory abuse during European Championship matches. That two-game ban on spectators will take effect next June during the Nations League.
Hungary will have to host Albania on Oct. 9 in an empty stadium in its next World Cup qualifier.
“This case highlights the need to make sure that regulations that ensure a consistency of approach across governing bodies are in place,” Powar said. “If all Hungarian offenses had been taken into account they would be facing exclusion from the World Cup, and remedial measures would have been put in place. There should be better co-ordination between confederations, such as UEFA, and FIFA, to coordinate action.
In this case UEFA should have asked FIFA to apply their previous sanction and the Hungary vs. England match played behind closed doors. An administrative loophole has allowed racism to flourish.”
FIFA’s disciplinary committee ruled there had been “racist behavior of numerous supporters” during the England match this month that was played in front of a crowd of almost 60,000 at Puskas Arena.
The verdict came “after analizing and taking into consideration all the circumstances of the case, specifically the seriousness of the incidents,” FIFA said in a statement highlighting “racist words and actions, throwing of objects, lighting of fireworks, blocked stairways” by Hungary fans.
FIFA’s claim to adopt a “clear zero tolerance stance against such abhorrent behavior in football” was challenged by English football’s anti-racism organization.
“What does zero tolerance approach even mean? Words that read good in print but we’ll never actually adhere to them,” tweeted Kick It Out’s head of development Troy Townsend. “Anyway, we have our own problems and don’t even go this far with punishments.”


Italian boxer of Moroccan origin beats Nazi-tattooed rival

Italian boxer of Moroccan origin beats Nazi-tattooed rival
Updated 21 September 2021

Italian boxer of Moroccan origin beats Nazi-tattooed rival

Italian boxer of Moroccan origin beats Nazi-tattooed rival
  • Hassan Nourdine: Michele Broili’s tattoos ‘disgusted me … I had more of a taste to win’
  • Nourdine gained Italian super-featherweight title on points

LONDON: An Italian boxer born in Morocco has claimed victory over a fighter whose body is tattooed with Nazi symbols.

Hassan Nourdine, 34, beat Michele Broili, 28, on points to win the Italian super-featherweight title in the northeastern city of Trieste.

Nourdine, who moved to the Italian town of Asti with his parents when he was 6, said Broili’s tattoos motivated him to win.

“I tried to stay focused and undistracted the whole evening, but seeing Broili’s tattoos glorifying Nazism disgusted me, not to mention the spectators giving stiff-armed fascist salutes,” Nourdine told Italy’s La Stampa newspaper. “I wanted to have a good fight and given the situation I had more of a taste to win.”

He said the Federazione Pugilistica Italiana, Italian boxing’s governing body should not allow Broili to compete due to his tattoos.

“They should have realized this boxer had certain leanings — the incitement of hatred is punishable by law,” Nourdine added.

“Anyone who has been to school knows what the Nazis did, and even those who didn’t go to school know what the Holocaust was.”

Broili’s tattoos include the SS logo, a Celtic cross and the number 88, neo-Nazi shorthand for the expression “Heil Hitler.” 

Nourdine, who works night shifts at a factory making industrial machinery to support his family and boxing career, said: “You need to make young people understand these are dangerous messages. You need to remind them these symbols encouraged genocide.”

After the fight, the FPI said it was considering action against Broili for his tattoos. 


Blow for Al-Hilal, Saudi Arabia as Salem Al-Dossari ruled out for month

Blow for Al-Hilal, Saudi Arabia as Salem Al-Dossari ruled out for month
Updated 21 September 2021

Blow for Al-Hilal, Saudi Arabia as Salem Al-Dossari ruled out for month

Blow for Al-Hilal, Saudi Arabia as Salem Al-Dossari ruled out for month
  • 30-year-old set to miss at least two SPL matches, Saudi Arabia’s World Cup qualifiers against Japan, China in October

RIYADH: Al-Hilal and the Saudi national football team have been dealt a major blow with news that Salem Al-Dossari will be sidelined for up to four weeks as he recovers from a recent injury.

According to Al-Hilal, medical tests confirmed that the 30-year-old winger had torn a joint ligament.

Al-Dossari will now miss the club’s matches against Al-Shabab and Al-Hazem in the sixth and seventh rounds of the Saudi Pro League, and the Asian qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup against Japan and China on Oct. 7 and 12, respectively.

His participation in Al-Hilal’s AFC Champions League quarterfinal against Iran’s Persepolis on Oct. 16, however, will depend on how quickly his injury responds to treatment.

Al-Dossari was injured during his team’s 3-2 victory over Al-Ettifaq in their last SPL match.

Meanwhile, Al-Hilal captain Salman Al-Faraj on Monday edged closer to a first team return with another training session with the club’s youth team, but Peruvian forward Andre Carrillo was still three to four weeks away from a full recovery.

The reigning champions will meet Al-Shabab in the sixth round of the 2021-22 SPL season matches at King Fahd International Stadium on Thursday.


Alhasnaa Al-Hammad, Leen Al-Fozan, Nada Abed claim titles at Saudi Fencing Championship

Alhasnaa Al-Hammad, Leen Al-Fozan, Nada Abed claim titles at Saudi Fencing Championship
Updated 21 September 2021

Alhasnaa Al-Hammad, Leen Al-Fozan, Nada Abed claim titles at Saudi Fencing Championship

Alhasnaa Al-Hammad, Leen Al-Fozan, Nada Abed claim titles at Saudi Fencing Championship
  • Trio of fencers won sabre, foil, epee titles at end of Gold Round in Alkhobar

RIYADH: Fencing trio Alhasnaa Al-Hammad, Leen Al-Fozan, and Nada Abed have been crowned overall champions in the sabre, foil, and epee categories, respectively, at the conclusion of the Saudi Fencing Championship Gold Round in Alkhobar.

Ahmed Al-Sabban, president of the Saudi Fencing Federation, presented the overall winners with their prizes after the championship’s final round held at the fencing arena in Prince Saud bin Jalawi Sports City.

Dai Al-Amiri won the epee category in the competition for under-15s, while Aya Ammar claimed the foil title in the same age group.

The results of the Gold Round had seen top places go to Shahd Al-Kloub in epee, Leen Al-Fozan in foil, and Alhasnaa Al-Hammad in sabre.


Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr have most valuable squads in AFC Champions League

Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr have most valuable squads in AFC Champions League
Updated 21 September 2021

Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr have most valuable squads in AFC Champions League

Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr have most valuable squads in AFC Champions League
  • The 2019 winners’ players are worth $71.76m, while Riyadh neighbors Al-Nassr’s are valued at $71.33m

It is no surprise that Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr, the latter despite their managerial change last week, are two of the favorites to lift the AFC Champions League trophy on Nov. 23 — and not just because the final will be held in their home city of Riyadh.

If you follow the money, these rivals should be there or thereabouts. Of the eight teams left in Asia’s premier club competition, the two Saudi Arabian representatives have the most valuable squads. That is according to Transfermarkt, the website used around the world to track and rank such things.

Al-Hilal have the most expensive assets of all, worth a collective $71.76 million, just slightly more than Al-Nassr’s $71.33 million.

The 2019 Asian champions, who defeated Esteghlal 2-0 in the round of 16 of the AFC Champions League last week, have two players whose worth can be measured only by using eight figures. Moussa Marega, who arrived this year from FC Porto, has a value of $11.74 million, but the player worth the most is, unsurprisingly, Matheus Pereira at $17.60 million.

The Riyadh giants beat a number of clubs from the English Premier League and elsewhere to sign the Brazilian from West Bromwich Albion in August. The playmaker showed his worth against Esteghlal with a fine assist for the opening goal. His pass was converted by Bafetimbi Gomis, whose relatively low valuation of $1.88 million is influenced by his 36 years and short contract. The highest-rated local player in the squad is the talismanic Salem Al-Dawsari at $3.76 million. Next is central midfielder Mohammed Kanno at $3.05 million.

Al-Nassr have plenty of gems of their own after a busy 12 months or so in the transfer market. Injury-hit Argentine Pity Martinez has a $14.08 million valuation, which is not that much below the $17.60 million or so the nine-time Saudi champions paid out for the playmaker in 2020. This is something of a surprise given his inactivity in recent months. The club has so far had better luck with its more recent additions, with Talisca valued at $11.74 million, the same as Cameroonian striker Vincent Aboubakar. The highest-rated Saudi player is the excellent full-back Sultan Al-Ghanam at $3.17 million, $821,500 above midfielder Abdulfattah Asiri.

In terms of the AFC Champions League, none of the other six clubs can boast such expensive assets. Persepolis have reached two of the last three finals, but the Tehran giants have only one player worth seven figures. Mehdi Torabi headed the only goal against Istiklol of Tajikistan in the last minute of their second-round match and that can only add to his current valuation of $1.17 million. There is still talent in the squad, however. If Jalal Hosseini was a little younger than 39, then the center-back, who has made more than 100 appearances for Iran, would be worth his weight in gold.

Al-Wahda complete the West Asian quartet after their penalty shootout win in the all-UAE clash with Sharjah. According to Transfermarkt, Sharjah’s squad is valued at $36.44 million — almost three times more than Al-Wahda’s. If so, then coach Henk ten Cate has done well to take the Abu Dhabi club so far. Their two most valuable assets are Joao Pedro of Brazil and Syrian striker Omar Khribin, worth $3.52 million and $2.11 million, respectively. Again, if Ismail Matar was 28 instead of 38 then the winger would be one of the hottest and most expensive properties in Asian football. One also wonders how much more than $176,000 20-year-old midfielder Abdullah Hamad will be worth in the years to come.

Should Al-Nassr or Al-Hilal make it all the way to the final, then they will meet East Asian opposition and there is a good chance that the team will be from South Korea. The third most-valuable squad left in the competition belongs to Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors at an estimated $25.56 million. The two-time Asian champions have the usual sprinkling of foreign players, with Russian striker Stanislav Iljutcenko worth $2.35 million and Gambian winger Modou Barrow just $352,000 less. There are also plenty of local players worth $1 million or more, signifying the strength in depth that Jeonbuk possess. There are current or former Korean internationals such as attackers Song Min-kyu, Han Kyo-won and Lee Seung-ki. At the back, former FC Augsburg center-back Hong Jeong-ho marshals the defense.

Jeonbuk’s rivals for the Korean title and defending Asian champions Ulsan Hyundai have players with valuations that reflect the talent at the club. There are no huge stars, with Georgian midfielder Valeri Qazaishvili the highest valued at $1.88 million. There are two local players who are worth almost as much, with talented midfielder Yoon Bit-garam and goalkeeper Cho Hyun-woo, who starred for Korea at the 2018 World Cup, valued at $1.76 million. Then there are young players such as Lee Dong-jun and Lee Dong-gyeong, who seem a little undervalued.

Pohang Steelers are one of two teams, along with Al-Hilal, with three Asian club championships under their belt. Despite having 39 players in their squad — one of the biggest in the entire 40-team tournament — the Steelers’ entire roster is worth only $12.65 million, about a sixth of those of Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr. No player is estimated to be worth even $1 million. Left-back Kang Sang-woo is the highest valued at $997,500.

Japan has one club left compared to Korea’s three. Nagoya Grampus’ most expensive player, for any club looking to buy, is Jakub Swierczok. The Polish striker scored a hat-trick in a 4-2 win over Daegu FC last week. There are some other talented strikers at the club, such as Yoichiro Kakitani and Mu Kanazaki, but they are valued lower as they are the wrong side of 30. The most expensive domestic player is 25-year-old center-back Shinnosuke Nakatani.

Fans in Saudi Arabia will get a chance to check out some of these talents in the coming weeks, allowing them to judge just how accurate such valuations are and whether they will increase or decrease.