Saudi Sports Company seals deal for exclusive AFC match media rights

Saudi Sports Company seals deal for exclusive AFC match media rights
The agreement is in line with the Saudi leadership’s vision to ensure the broadcast of premium sports content in one of the most passionate fanbases in the MENA region, the AFC said in a statement. (AFC)
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Updated 05 April 2021

Saudi Sports Company seals deal for exclusive AFC match media rights

Saudi Sports Company seals deal for exclusive AFC match media rights
  • The deal gives the Saudi Sports Company exclusive rights in Saudi Arabia to broadcast the AFC’s major National Team and Club competitions
  • Deal includes AFC Asian Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and the AFC Asian Cup China 2023 as well as the AFC Champions League

KUALA LUMPUR: The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) has signed an exclusive deal with the Saudi Sports Company for the media rights of the AFC Competitions covering the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for the commercial cycle 2021-2024 – it was announced on Monday.

The deal gives the Saudi Sports Company exclusive rights in Saudi Arabia to broadcast the AFC’s major National Team and Club competitions, including the AFC Asian Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and the AFC Asian Cup China 2023 as well as the AFC Champions League.

The agreement is in line with the Saudi leadership’s vision to ensure the broadcast of premium sports content in one of the most passionate fanbases in the MENA region, the AFC said in a statement.

“This is an extremely significant moment for the AFC as Saudi Arabia have long been one of the strongest football nations not only in the Gulf and Middle East but also in Asia,” Dato’ Windsor John, the AFC General Secretary said.

“Now, this agreement will provide the millions of passionate and committed football fans in Saudi Arabia with the most comprehensive access to, and best coverage of, Asia’s best and most valued football competitions.”

“We are grateful to the Saudi Sports Company for their confidence and investment in Asian football and we look forward to working with them in further developing and growing the interest in our world-class competitions.”

Saudi Sports Company will initially showcase all competitions through their GSA over-the-top (OTT) live platform service before broadcasting via satellite on television channels in the last quarter of 2021, with more details to be announced in due course.

Under the agreement, the Saudi Sports Company is committed towards leveraging on the latest available technology to bring top-class action to fans within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to attain the goals of the Kingdom's Vision 2030.


Saudis show support for Tahani Al-Qahtani as she prepares to take on Israeli opponent in Women’s Judo competition at Tokyo 2020

Tahani Al-Qahtani has chosen not to withdraw from the Judo Women’s +78 kg Round of 32 clash as a form of protest against Israel. (Supplied/Saudi Olympic Committee)
Tahani Al-Qahtani has chosen not to withdraw from the Judo Women’s +78 kg Round of 32 clash as a form of protest against Israel. (Supplied/Saudi Olympic Committee)
Updated 29 July 2021

Saudis show support for Tahani Al-Qahtani as she prepares to take on Israeli opponent in Women’s Judo competition at Tokyo 2020

Tahani Al-Qahtani has chosen not to withdraw from the Judo Women’s +78 kg Round of 32 clash as a form of protest against Israel. (Supplied/Saudi Olympic Committee)
  • Unlike other Arab athletes at the Olympics, the 21-year-old will not withdraw from her Women’s +78 kg Round of 32 clash on Friday

JEDDAH: Saudis have been rallying around judoka Tahani Al-Qahtani as she prepares to take to the mat against Israeli athlete Raz Hershko at Tokyo 2020.

Al-Qahtani has chosen not to withdraw from the Judo Women’s +78 kg Round of 32 clash as a form of protest against Israel. The matter came to the fore after Algerian Fethi Nourine withdrew from the Judo Men’s +73 kg competition rather than face the possibility of taking on an Israeli athlete.

Sports fans and leading media figures in Saudi Arabia, including writers, academics and celebrities, have taken to social media, particularly Twitter, to express their support for Al-Qahtani ahead of her Olympic debut on Friday, July 30 in the Nippon Budokan arena.

The 21-year-old has received huge backing for her decision, with many voices pointing out that the idea of the Olympics is to put aside political differences and take part in what is very often the pinnacle of an athlete’s career.

Ghadah Al-Ghunaim, board member of the King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue, tweeted her support.

“Don’t quit, face her. Withdrawing is a fake victory. Whether you win or lose, you are a hero in our eyes. Good luck, the pride and joy of the country,” she posted.

Former professor in political sciences Dr. Turki Al-Hamad tweeted: “I hope that our Saudi heroine will not withdraw from the sporting event with the Israeli player and give her victory by simply withdrawing. It is a matter of sports in the end, and Israel will not go away with such a withdrawal.” 

There was plenty of support for Al-Qahtani from fellow Saudi women, with project manager Lujain Al-Jehani saying she was pleased that Al-Qahtani is going ahead with the contest against Hershko.

“I think Tahani Al-Qahtani made the right decision not to withdraw the contest against the Israeli player. If she wants to support Palestine, she should simply stand her ground and win the game, and make a statement that way,” she told Arab News.

Highlighting the growing number of Saudi women in sports, she added: “Our country invested greatly in women so that they can participate in the Olympics. It’s something that we really should be proud of, to show how far we’ve come thanks to the Crown Prince’s social reforms. I hope she wins the game and I hope we win the gold medal for Judo.”

Radiologist Mohammed Al-Shehri said he is proud of Saudi women making it to the Olympics.

“I personally felt excited reading that Tahani is representing Saudi females in the Olympics, and in such a tough and physical sport,” he said. “It must have taken a lot of time, effort and dedication.”

“What I want to say to Tahani is that you have reached a stage where a lot of people dream of reaching, and this is just the start for you,” Al-Shehri said. “Forget all the pressure and just do it for yourself and for those who one day want to be in your place. Better than looking back at it and wondering what if.”

He also told her to stay strong and focused on the task ahead, adding “we are rooting for you and I wish you safety and victory during your journey.”

Hassan Al-Yamani, a Saudi quality control manager, said the Kingdom and its people have the right to be proud of the young men and women of their country.

“We are honored to be represented in this tournament by one of the ambitious girls and the symbol of courage and strength for this ambitious country, Tahani Al-Qahtani,” he said. “I hope that Tahani completes the competition and we all trust in God that she will achieve victory and reach the highest levels of the championship. All The best, congratulations to Al-Qahtani. Keep it up. All the Saudi people are with you.”


Rower Husein Alireza looks to give Saudi highest ranking possible in his last Men’s Single Sculls race at Tokyo 2020

Saudi Arabia's Husein Alireza during the Men's Single Scull Semifinal C/D on Thursday morning. (Supplied/Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee)
Saudi Arabia's Husein Alireza during the Men's Single Scull Semifinal C/D on Thursday morning. (Supplied/Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee)
Updated 29 July 2021

Rower Husein Alireza looks to give Saudi highest ranking possible in his last Men’s Single Sculls race at Tokyo 2020

Saudi Arabia's Husein Alireza during the Men's Single Scull Semifinal C/D on Thursday morning. (Supplied/Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee)
  • Sixth place finish in Semifinal C/D means he will take part in Friday’s Final D to decide positions 19-24

DUBAI: Saudi rower Husein Alireza will tomorrow conclude his Tokyo 2020 journey with an appearance in the Men’s Single Sculls Final D after finishing sixth in Thursday’s Semifinal C/D at Sea Forest Waterway.

The result means he misses out on competing in Final C and the chance of a final ranking between 13 and 18.

The 27-year-old has been racing in Japan with an injured lung that has severely hampered his performances, and Friday morning’s race (2:35 a.m. KSA) will give him the opportunity to improve his overall ranking in a contest that will decide positions 19-24 in the field of 32.

In his final race of Tokyo 2020, Alireza will be up against Onat Kazakli of Turkey, Vladislav Yakovlev of Kazakhstan, Mohammed Al-Khafaji of Iraq, Peter Purcell-Gilpin of Zimbabwe and Cris Nievarez of the Philippines.

Alireza suffered a punctured lung during an Olympic Qualification Regatta on May 5, which left him unable to train until June 22, just three weeks before he was due to land in Japan ahead of the start of the competition.

Last week, Alireza, who alongside sprinter Yasmine Al-Dabbagh carried the Saudi flag at the Tokyo 2020 opening ceremony, told Arab News that with the injury initially diagnosed to heal in no less than three months without any physical exertions, he was advised to give the Olympics a miss.

However, having insisted on taking part in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to represent the Kingdom at the Olympics, his technical team devised a strategy that would see Alireza navigate the best path toward improving his ranking, with hopes to win a medal not in any way seen as realistic considering his handicap.


From England’s fields to the world: How cricket became the world’s second most popular sport

An English team of professionals on their way to North America for the first-ever overseas tour in 1859. (Wikimedia Commons)
An English team of professionals on their way to North America for the first-ever overseas tour in 1859. (Wikimedia Commons)
Updated 29 July 2021

From England’s fields to the world: How cricket became the world’s second most popular sport

An English team of professionals on their way to North America for the first-ever overseas tour in 1859. (Wikimedia Commons)
  • Three recent additions mean the International Cricket Council now has 94 associate members alongside 12 full members

LONDON: At its 78th annual general meeting, held virtually this year in mid-July, the International Cricket Council (ICC) welcomed three new associate members. Two of them — Mongolia and Tajikistan — joined for the first time, whilst Switzerland was readmitted after losing its membership in 2012.

This means that, in addition to the twelve full ICC members, there are now 94 associate members, Zambia having been expelled in 2019 and Russia suspended in 2021 for non-compliance with certain membership criteria.

It is a common assumption that cricket’s initial geographical spread was a function of the British Empire. The sailors and soldiers, traders, missionaries, convicts, settlers, administrators all contributed to it being played in North America, India, Australia, New Zealand, the Caribbean and parts of Africa, especially the south and east.     

According to USA Cricket, which has run the game since 2018 after the expulsion of the United States of America Cricket Association in 2017, the first reference to cricket being played there was in 1709. The first international match was played between the US and Canada in September 1844. By the mid 1800’s, cricket was played in 22 states by up to a thousand clubs; during the Civil War, baseball, a shorter game, became more popular with troops and has since dominated.    

The first reference to play in India is reported to have been between sailors of the East India Company in 1721. No doubt, cricket was played within the colonial enclaves of India but it was not until the mid-19th century that reports of organized matches began to appear. If the development of cricket in England was rural, it was, by contrast, urban in India, being driven initially by Parsis in Bombay, who sought to epitomize British values in their everyday lifestyles.

Around the same time, international tours became frequent commercial ventures played by professionals. Thus, an English party toured the US and Canada in 1859 and another toured Australia in 1861-62. In 1868, an Australian Aboriginal side toured England and, in 1877, England played its first Test match against Australia to begin the game’s oldest rivalry.

The domination of these tours by professionals began to wane, as the English cricket establishment became increasingly influenced by upper class products of public schools. One leading light was Lord Harris, who, as governor of Bombay, promoted cricket as a unifying force that generated team spirit, character, but was above all an amateur pursuit.

Lord Hawke was of similar mind. He led parties of amateurs to India, South Africa, the West Indies, Australia and New Zealand between 1892 and 1903. These tours were the stuff of soft diplomacy, the game seeking to expand its influence wherever English was spoken, promoting particular moral codes and supporting “imperial” purpose. 

This divergence between amateur and professional approaches to the game had repercussions until well in to the second half of the 20th century. The model of cricket promoted by the likes of Harris and Hawke, in which the cultivation of a superior style, played in an elegant and graceful manner under pressure, served to exclude many from playing the game.

On top of that, cricket was accused of being used as an instrument to maintain hegemonic order; an agent of control and reaffirmation. In the West Indies, it took until 1948 for a black man to be appointed captain, but only for one match. In South Africa, a Test-playing nation since 1889, it took until 2006 for a non-white man to be appointed captain. In India, the game was arranged around religious and communal lines until after independence. 

The control of the game by white, mainly English, men has been loosened gradually over the last 50 years. A symbol of that control was embodied in the Imperial Cricket Conference, formed in 1909 to administrate the game, primarily from an English perspective, with England, South Africa and Australia being founder members. In 1965, “Imperial” became “International”; in 1989 “Council” replaced “Conference,” and in 2005, the ICC headquarters moved from London to Dubai.

It is reasonable to argue that this move has provided the impetus for the ICC to be much more international in its perspective, encouraging a larger number of national cricket governing bodies to promote cricket at a wider level of youth, and through women’s cricket. The game is now the second most popular sport in the world, thanks in large part to India, along with Pakistan and Bangladesh, with a combined population approaching 1.5 billion.

Yet, cricket is absent from the Olympics, having made its one and only appearance at the 1900 Games, when England defeated France. There are hopes that it may feature in 2028 in Los Angeles, and the ICC has formed a committee to explore it.

A key issue is which format is most suitable, with T20 and T10 believed to be under discussion. The latter was introduced in the UAE in 2017, followed by Qatar, Malaysia, Fiji and over 10 European countries. Another issue is what its impact might be on revenue streams that currently feed directly into cricket. If these issues can be overcome, cricket at the Olympics would be a major boost to the expansion of cricket’s global and increasingly inclusive appeal, long removed from its previous narrow, imperial, expansionist phase.


Saudi swimmer Youssef Bouarish eliminated, Egyptian Ramadan Youssef qualifies for Men’s 100m Butterfly semifinal

Saudi swimmer Youssef Bouarish during Heat 1 of the Men's 100m Butterfly competition at Tokyo Aquatics Center on Thursday. (Supplied/Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee)
Saudi swimmer Youssef Bouarish during Heat 1 of the Men's 100m Butterfly competition at Tokyo Aquatics Center on Thursday. (Supplied/Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee)
Updated 29 July 2021

Saudi swimmer Youssef Bouarish eliminated, Egyptian Ramadan Youssef qualifies for Men’s 100m Butterfly semifinal

Saudi swimmer Youssef Bouarish during Heat 1 of the Men's 100m Butterfly competition at Tokyo Aquatics Center on Thursday. (Supplied/Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee)
  • Bouarish’s time in Heat 1 meant he did not make the cut of the day’s 16 fastest swimmers in the category

DUBAI: Saudi swimmer Youssef Bouarish has been eliminated from the Men’s 100m Butterfly competition at Tokyo 2020, while Egyptian teenager Ramadan Youssef was left celebrating reaching the semifinal after finishing second in his heat at the Tokyo Aquatics Center on Thursday afternoon.

Bouarish finished second out of three in Heat 1, but his time of 56.29 seconds — a new personal best — was not enough to see him qualify as one of the fastest 16 swimmers from the day’s eight races.

The Egyptian swimmer, on the other hand, came in second in Heat 5 with a time of 51.67 seconds, only 0.13 seconds behind winner Nyls Korstanje and ahead of Jiajun Sun of China in third.

The 19-year-old Youssef will now take part in Friday morning’s Men’s 100m Butterfly semifinals, starting from 4:30 a.m. Saudi Arabia time.

While the early exit will be disappointing for the 21-year-old Bouarish, Tokyo 2020 was always going to be an experience-gathering exercise for future regional and international competitions.

His path to the top of Saudi swimming has been prodigious, ultimately leading all the way to Tokyo 2020.

As a 5-year-old, Bouarish almost drowned on a visit to the seaside with his family. His father suggested he start attending swimming classes and from there grew a love affair with the sport.

As a 15-year-old, he won three gold medals at the 2016 Gulf Cooperation Council Championship in Dammam. A year later, he won bronze in the 50m Butterfly at the Arab Youth Championship and followed that up with another bronze in the same category at the Arab Championship 2018.

At the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Argentina, he broke all previous records held by Saudi swimmers in four categories.


Olympic organizers defend virus measures as Japan cases surge

Olympic organizers defend virus measures as Japan cases surge
Updated 29 July 2021

Olympic organizers defend virus measures as Japan cases surge

Olympic organizers defend virus measures as Japan cases surge
  • Olympic organisers reported 24 new infections among Games participants, the highest yet, bringing the total number to 193
  • International Olympic Committee spokesman said there was nothing to suggest a link between the Games and the rising figures in Japan

TOKYO: Japan hit a record number of new virus cases on Thursday as Tokyo Olympics organizers defended their Covid-19 counter-measures and dismissed any link to the nationwide surge.
Olympic organizers reported 24 new infections among Games participants, the highest yet, bringing the total number to 193, including athletes, media and Olympic employees and contractors.
Meanwhile nationwide infections topped 10,000 for the first time, Japanese media said, with Tokyo reporting a record 3,865 cases.
Reports also said the government would expand a state of emergency to four more regions, and extend the emergency currently in place in Tokyo until August 31.
International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams said there was nothing to suggest a link between the Games and the rising figures in Japan.
“As far as I’m aware there’s not a single case of an infection spreading to the Tokyo population from the athletes or Olympic movement,” he told reporters.
“We have the most tested community probably anywhere... in the world, on top of that you have some of the toughest lockdown restrictions in the athlete’s village,” he added.
Organizers also insisted the Games is not putting additional pressure on Japan’s medical system, as experts warn the rising number of cases could lead to a health care crisis.
Only two people associated with the Games are in hospital, they said, and half of all those needing care are being looked after by their own medical teams.
“Of 310,000 screening tests, the rate of positivity is 0.02 percent,” Adams added.
Of the Olympic participants reported positive, 109 are residents of Japan, with the rest coming from abroad.
The comments come with rising concern in Tokyo and beyond about a rapid rise in new infections, spurred by the more contagious Delta variant.
Tokyo is already under a virus state of emergency that shortens restaurant and bar opening hours and bans them from selling alcohol, and three neighboring regions are now expected to impose the same measure.
But experts say the limits do not appear to be working, and have warned people not to drop their guard.
“The current situation is the worst ever,” a top government adviser on the virus warned, according to national broadcaster NHK.
Shigeru Omi, a former top WHO official, said the government and Olympic organizers had the “responsibility to do everything they can... to prevent infections and a breakdown in medical services.”
And the chairman of the Tokyo Medical Association Haruo Ozaki urged the government to “send an effective, strong message,” warning that emergency measures were no longer enough.
Osaki said infections among Olympians and among the Japanese population were “different issues,” but said the Games were having an “indirect impact.”
“People find it hard to think about self-restraint when we’re having this festival,” he said.
Tokyo’s Governor Yuriko Koike however insisted the Games was helping people heed calls to avoid non-essential outings.
“It’s significantly lifting the numbers of people staying at home” and watching on television, she told reporters.
Japan has seen a comparatively small virus outbreak, with around 15,000 deaths despite avoiding harsh lockdowns, but only around a quarter of the population is fully vaccinated.
Strict measures have been imposed for the Games, including a ban on spectators at almost all events and regular testing for Olympic participants.
Japanese media said Thursday the government would expand the state of emergency to three regions around Tokyo and Osaka, in western Japan.
The emergency measures in place in Tokyo and southern Okinawa had been due to end August 22, but will now last until August 31 in the capital and other affected regions, they said.