Exclusive: Saudi Arabia’s game-changing-plans for cricket in the Kingdom

Prince Saud Bin Mishal Al Saud, chairman of the Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation (SACF). (AN Photo)
Prince Saud Bin Mishal Al Saud, chairman of the Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation (SACF). (AN Photo)
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Updated 31 March 2021

Exclusive: Saudi Arabia’s game-changing-plans for cricket in the Kingdom

Prince Saud Bin Mishal Al Saud, chairman of the Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation (SACF). (AN Photo)
  • Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation (SACF) chairman Prince Saud bin Mishal Al Saud outlines vision for the sport and produce competitive national teams
  • A main objective is better quality of life for expats living in Kingdom, and to attract Saudis to the sport

RIYADH: Cricket is set to take a giant leap across Saudi Arabia with the game’s ruling body in the Kingdom set to introduce a series of competitions and programs that will encourage the nation’s youth to take up one of the world’s oldest and most popular sports.

For years, even decades, cricket in Saudi Arabia was a game played almost exclusively by expatriate communities from South Asian countries.

But things are set to change rapidly.

Today, the Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation (SACF), established in 2020, has lined up a series of major programs focused on promoting the game among Saudis and expatriates in the Kingdom.

Above all, long term plans have been put in place to ensure that Saudi Arabian national teams can compete with the world’s best in the future.

With Prince Saud Bin Mishal Al Saud as chairman, the federation is now the single body responsible for all matters relating to cricket in the Kingdom. After a year of major disruptions for all sporting activities, cricket is primed for a fresh start.

“Due to COVID19 outbreak last year, we were unlucky,” SACF chairman told Arab News. “We started in August after the situation improved, and since then, we have been very busy with the setting up of many programs, with several deals and MoUs signed with the governmental, semi-governmental and non-governmental entities.”

Those steps are set to be game-changers in raising cricket’s profile among Saudis and expatriates alike.

“We signed a deal with the Sports for All Federation (SFA) to launch 4 programs and we started with the National Cricket Championship,” Prince Saud said. “It is the biggest ever cricket tournament in the history of Saudi Arabia. We have more than 7,000 players and 360 teams taking part in the mega-competition played at over a hundred grounds across 11 cities in the Kingdom.”

The in production of this competition brought competitive cricket action to Riyadh, Dammam, Jubail, Jeddah, Madinah, Yanbu, Tabuk, Abha, Jazan, Qassim and Najran.

In the first match week of the National Cricket Championship, 107 matches took place between 214 teams, while in the second week 85 matches were played between 170 teams. The third week saw 113 matches were played between 226 teams, the fourth and latest match-day week of action, completed on March 26, witnessed a new record of 144 matches contested between 288 teams, and 5,085 players.

Crucially, other community level initiatives have been established.

“We have three other programs,” Prince Saud added. “There will be a corporate cricket tournament launched in October and November, we have a cricket league for expatriate workers, and we have a social cricket program introduced in various cities. Throughout the year, we are planning to have 20,000 participants taking part in these programs in 2021.”

These programs are part of the Kingdom’s mission to promote a healthy and active lifestyle under the Saudi Vision 2030’s Quality of Life program, with the SACF, supported by the Ministry of Sports and Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee, mandated to increase physical activity levels by 40 percent over the next decade. 

Prince Saud is keen to attract Saudi youth to cricket through more school activities and community programs.

“One of our biggest plans is to have a proper infrastructure for the game, since we don’t have it today,” Prince Saud said. “We are planning to have cricket academies, more grounds, better facilities with entertainment and other services around them to attract Saudi as well as foreign youth to the game.

“One of our biggest objectives is to bring better quality of life for expatriates working here. We have about eight million people from Asian countries where cricket is the most popular game, places such as India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka,” he added.




Prince Saud said the SACF programs are part of the Kingdom’s mission to promote a healthy and active lifestyle under the Saudi Vision 2030’s Quality of Life program. (AN Photo)

The chairman also revealed that the SACF was one of the first federations invited to establish a presence at the new city of NEOM, where cricket facilities are being planned to cater to almost 35,000 people working there.

While cricket has long been played among country’s South Asian communities, with several local competitions established over the last few decades, a higher level of coordination with the federation can be expected now, with Prince Saud revealing that the SACF are planning programs involving embassies and corporations that have significant numbers of employees who take part in domestic cricket matches.

The SACF’s plans, however, go well beyond community level participation. Ultimately, the aim is to produce competitive Saudi Arabian national teams.

“We are currently 28th out of 105 countries in the International Cricket Council (ICC) T20 global rankings, which is good,” said Prince Saud. “We became an ICC member in 2003 and worked our way up to this rank. Now we are signing up with qualified coaches and advisors for us to become an even better team.”

The coronavirus crisis may have halted all sporting activities for a year, but Prince Saud insists that things will change once a sense of normalcy returns.

“Because of the pandemic, schools were closed and running online classes, but as soon as the situation improves and schools reopen, we will have a full program of tournaments between schools all over the Kingdom, as well as international participation,” he said.

The right people will be hired and trusted to take the game forward.

“We are talking to coaches and legends of the game, and we will have them qualify and improve coaches in domestic cricket and help at the national level,” Prince Saud outlined.

The long-term aim is for Saudi Arabian cricket teams to compete professionally at regional and international competitions, as well as to attract some of the world’s finest cricketers to the Kingdom.

“We are planning to have some competitions within the GCC,” said Prince Saud. “Because of pandemic we may have only one or two competitions to play abroad, but once we have established a solid infrastructure in the Kingdom, we will look to host big tournaments and leagues from franchises of other major competitions.”    

Such long-term thinking will no doubt play a major part in raising cricket’s popularity among a new demographic in Saudi Arabia, as well as continuing to engage the game’s established audience.

The message from the SACF is clear; cricket is open for business, and everyone is welcome.


Saudi rower Husein Alireza takes to the Sea Forest Waterway for final flourish at Tokyo 2020

Saudi rower Husein Alireza takes to the Sea Forest Waterway for final flourish at Tokyo 2020
Updated 28 July 2021

Saudi rower Husein Alireza takes to the Sea Forest Waterway for final flourish at Tokyo 2020

Saudi rower Husein Alireza takes to the Sea Forest Waterway for final flourish at Tokyo 2020
  • The 27-year-old has been racing at the Olympics with a damaged lung sustained in the weeks leading up to the competition

TOKYO: Saudi rower Husein Alireza continues his Olympic journey on Thursday morning when he takes part in the Men’s Single Scull Semifinal C/D on the Sea Forest Waterway in Tokyo.

The race offers him the chance to raise his ranking at Tokyo 2020 despite not being in medal contention.

On Sunday, Alireza who has been competing with a damaged lung, revealed to Arab News the strategy devised by his team at Tokyo 2020 that has allowed him to manage an injury-hit games. With the 27-year-old unable to perform at full capacity in all his races, a deliberately cautious Men’s Single Sculls Semifinal A/B meant he could focus of the Semifinal C/D and a chance to improve his overall ranking.

“It’s an exciting but tough line-up so we’ll evaluate how the body is feeling closer to the race,” Alireza said yesterday.

A serious rib injury in May had left Alireza with a punctured lung that stopped him training for weeks, and three races in three days in the high heat and humidity of Tokyo — which left three other competitors suffering with heat stroke — were always going to take a physical toll on Alireza, who has had trouble with his breathing in the conditions.

After only training for a few weeks before the start of the tournament, and with his lung capacity still down 10 percent his technical team decided on a path that would give him his highest possible finish.


Painful end for Saudi weightlifter at 2020 Tokyo Olympics

Painful end for Saudi weightlifter at 2020 Tokyo Olympics
Updated 28 July 2021

Painful end for Saudi weightlifter at 2020 Tokyo Olympics

Painful end for Saudi weightlifter at 2020 Tokyo Olympics
  • Mahmoud Al-Ahmeed was injured during his third attempt at clean and jerk in the men’s 73-kilogram weightlifting competition
  • The 28-year-old Saudi finished 12th overall among 14 competitors in the event

TOKYO: Mahmoud Al-Ahmeed’s Olympic campaign came to a painful end when he was injured during Group B action of the men’s 73-kilogram weightlifting competition on Wednesday morning at the Tokyo International Forum.

The 28-year-old Saudi had a strong start with a score of 141 kg from his three attempts at snatch, which put him in second place in the early standing of the five-competitor group.

Al-Ahmeed followed that up with a lift of 165 kg in his first attempt of clean and jerk, giving him a total of 306 for the competition.

He was injured during his second attempt at 175 kg and held the back of his thigh in pain. It proved to be his last action of the 2020 Tokyo Games. The Saudi finished 12th overall among 14 competitors in the ​​men’s 73-kilogram weightlifting competition.

When the competition resumed on Wednesday afternoon, Shi Zhiyong of China won the gold medal by setting an Olympic and world record score of 364. Julio Reben Mayora Pernia of Venezuela (346) took silver, followed by Indonesia’s Rahmat Erwin Abdullah (342) with the bronze.

It was a disappointing end for Al-Ahmeed, whose Olympic journey started during a chance meeting in 2008 while with a weightlifter friend at a gym session. Al-Ahmeed caught the attention of a coach, who asked him to lift some weights.

After Al-Ahmeed was impressive with his handling of 40 kg weights, the then 15-year-old began training every day as his Olympic dreams became a reality 13 years later when he earned his qualification for Tokyo.

Along the way, Al-Ahmeed became the Gulf champion in 2013, Arab champion in 2015, and secured gold at the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia.

He qualified for Tokyo 2020 by topping the International Weightlifting Federation rankings for Asian athletes in his category.


Saudi U-23 football team ends disappointing Tokyo 2020 with a loss to reigning champions Brazil

Saudi U-23 football team ends disappointing Tokyo 2020 with a loss to reigning champions Brazil
Updated 28 July 2021

Saudi U-23 football team ends disappointing Tokyo 2020 with a loss to reigning champions Brazil

Saudi U-23 football team ends disappointing Tokyo 2020 with a loss to reigning champions Brazil
  • Despite playing well in all three of their matches, the Young Falcons failed to win a single point at the Olympics

Saudi Arabia’s U-23 team bowed out of the Olympic football completion after losing 3-1 to Rio 2016 champions Brazil at Saitama Stadium on Wednesday afternoon.

The Saudis put in another commendable performance but defensive mistakes cost them the chance of claiming a single point from the three Group D clashes.

The match was watched by the President of the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee (SAOC), Prince Abdulaziz Bin Turki Al-Faisal.

Having lost its first two group matches against Ivory Coast (2-1) and Germany (3-2), Saudi Arabia came into this fixture with nothing to play for except pride, while Brazil needed to avoid defeat to confirm progress to the quarterfinals.

Coach Saad Al-Shehri sent out a team that seemed focused on defending, but it took Brazil only 14 minutes to take the lead when Matheus Cunha headed past Amin Al-Bukhairi, the Saudi goalkeeper, who only managed to get a hand to the ball in his first start at Tokyo 2020.

On 20 minutes Brazil almost doubled its lead when Antony Santos headed against the bar from a precise Diego Carlos cross, and the pressure was maintained for several minutes as the Saudis struggled to hold the champions off.

The Young Falcons were getting plenty of possession of their own but were not able to threaten Brazil.

They finally scored the equalizer on 27 minutes when Salman Al-Faraj’s curling freekick was headed firmly by Abdulelah Al-Amri past Santos in the Brazil goal.

As against Germany in the second match, the Saudis were not awed by their more celebrated opponents and the goal gave them even more confidence to attack.

With three minutes left of the first half Cunha’s cross was almost turned in from close range by Antony but Al-Bukhairi saved superbly, injuring himself as the Brazilian attacker seemed to unintentionally step on his hand.

The early stages of the second half saw few chances at either end. Brazil should have taken the lead on 65 minutes after Richarlison’s shot was saved by Al-Bukhairi and Cunha struck the rebound against the post when it would have been easier to score.

Ten minutes later Brazil retook the lead after a Dani Alves freekick was cleared by the Saudi defence, but only to Bruno Guimaraes. He headed the ball back across the penalty area for Richarlison to finish with clinical header for this fourth goal of the tournament.

In the last seconds of normal time Richarlison scored again but the goal was ruled out for offside.

With seven minutes added on, there was still time for Richarlison to tap in Reinier’s cross for Brazil’s third in the 93rd minute.

Their win put Brazil at the top of Group D with seven points and they now progress to the quarterfinals, along with Ivory Coast. They managed a 1-1 draw with Germany, who depart Tokyo with Saudi Arabia.


UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation teams up with I-Friends to produce Arabic TV series promoting the sport and its values

UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation teams up with I-Friends to produce Arabic TV series promoting the sport and its values
Updated 28 July 2021

UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation teams up with I-Friends to produce Arabic TV series promoting the sport and its values

UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation teams up with I-Friends to produce Arabic TV series promoting the sport and its values
  • TV series will fuse drama and sport and serve as a vehicle to highlight the popularity and benefit of the sport in the Arab world

ABU DHABI: The UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation (UAEJJF) and I-Friends Sport, a subsidiary of the television production firm I-Friends Culture and Media, are partnering to produce an Arabic drama series that will highlight the sport of jiu-jitsu and the benefits its values have on society.

The signing of the partnership by the sport’s governing body in the emirates and the media firm took place at the federation’s headquarters in Abu Dhabi in the presence of UAEJJF General Secretary Fahad Al Shamsi and I-Friends Culture and Media General Manager Amr Mostafa Kamel.

“The media have always been a key vehicle to promote the sport of jiu-jitsu in the community through both sporting events and wider initiatives,” Al-Shamsi, said. “Today’s MoU signing elevates our efforts in embracing technology to raise awareness of the values of our beloved sport. This drama series will offer viewers a new experience and a different view of jiu-jitsu and the role it plays beyond the mat. Our partnership with I-Friends Culture and Media is a result of a common vision and goals in promoting positive values and healthy living.

“We look forward to working with the I-Friends team on this project and engaging jiu-jitsu coaches and players to reflect the true nature of the sport,” he added.

Commenting on the feature format of the show, Kamel said: “Drama plays an important role in promoting values and ideas, and the popularity of Arabic drama series has grown, reaching viewers from all the Arab world. The partnership with the UAEJJF will allow us to use our expertise in the field of drama production and present the sport of jiu-jitsu and its values.”

“Sports drama has always been a great success around the world, whether dealing with the lives of athletes or the history of sports,” he added. “We are confident that our cooperation with the UAEJJF will help project the jiu-jitsu sport forward and engage new audiences.”

Further details on the name of the series, where it will be streamed and how viewers can access the content will be revealed in the coming weeks, and the show will be broadcast primarily in UAE and Egypt, to reflect the growth of the sport among athletes from different countries.


Egyptian handball team beats host Japan for 2nd win at Tokyo 2020

Egyptian handball team beats host Japan for 2nd win at Tokyo 2020
Updated 28 July 2021

Egyptian handball team beats host Japan for 2nd win at Tokyo 2020

Egyptian handball team beats host Japan for 2nd win at Tokyo 2020
  • Sweden will be Egypt’s next Group B opponent before match against Bahrain

IYADH: Egypt on Wednesday beat Olympics host Japan 33-29 in the third preliminary round Group B match of the Games’ handball competition at Yoyogi National Stadium to record the team’s second win of the tournament.

The Egyptians had defeated Portugal 37-31 in their opening match of Tokyo 2020, but on Monday lost 32-27 to Denmark.

The win against Japan will reinvigorate the nation’s hopes of qualifying for next week’s quarterfinals.

In what was a more comfortable victory than the final score suggested, Egypt took an early first half lead and never relinquished it, with the halftime score standing at 18-11.

The Egyptians maintained their superiority throughout the second half with 37-year-old veteran Ahmed El-Ahmar, and Yehia El-Deraa among the team’s standout players.

Japan piled on some late pressure when it looked like the game was already up, but Egypt remained dangerous on the break and kept the hosts at arm’s length. A last-ditch Japanese flurry, that cut the margin of the win to four points by the final buzzer, never looked to have Egypt in trouble.

Egypt’s next match in Group B will be against Sweden on Friday, before the team faces Bahrain on Sunday.