The social network that wants to unite the football community

The social network that wants to unite the football community
TheFutbolApp allows members to earn cryptocurrency through engagement on its news feeds, games and chatrooms. (File/Shutterstock)
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Updated 12 April 2021

The social network that wants to unite the football community

The social network that wants to unite the football community
  • TheFutbolApp allows members to earn cryptocurrency through engagement on its news feeds, games and chatrooms.

DUBAI: What do you get if you let a tech wizard and a football-mad businessman brainstorm together for long enough?

The answer, perhaps not surprisingly in hindsight, is a social media network for football fans.

Specifically, TheFutbolApp, the brainchild of American Steve van Zutphen and British-Cypriot George Kafkarkou.

News feeds, games, prediction leagues, and chatrooms. Uniquely for social networks, it also looks to share its wealth with its members through its own cryptocurrency, TheFutbolCoin (TFC). The more you engage, the more likes you get, the more you make.

Van Zutphen is a veteran of the tech industry and has had several experiences of creating social networks since the early days of the century.

“It’s really hard to create a social network technically,” he said.

“It’s a lot more difficult than people expect, because of the amount of polish they see on Instagram and Facebook. They have tens of thousands of technologists as you can imagine. But if you break into a social network, you have to be better than the existing ones, not be equal or lesser.”

It took a long time to perfect an idea which, according to van Zutphen, initially came about after his friend and champion skier Jan Hudec - nicknamed the Panda - had asked him to devise a mechanism in which money can be poured back into the skiing community.

And so the tech behind TheFutbolApp was born.

“We’re used the advantage of the big technology toolkit we developed over a decade with a really world class team of guys and we felt that the way to get in the market was through sports, as a primary interest base, because we knew that Twitter was riding the coat-tails of football.”

To what extent football fans flock to Twitter came as shock to van Zutphen, as it might for many people.

“I’ve talked to executives at Twitter, and they said straight to me that of 100 million daily active users (two years ago), 70 million are there primarily because of football. So really Twitter is a football app, it’s football’s Instagram. So we thought that we could field something different and better, maybe to combine the features of these popular networks. We could do it, and we chose football.”

“It wasn’t easy, it’s technically very difficult,” he added. “But we did get it off the ground now and it’s running really beautifully.”

TheFutbolApp was launched in 2019 and currently has just over half a million active members. The founders where after creating a community that will benefit all its members equally.

“Steve and I and the whole team have a burning desire to make difference for everybody involved in this community,” Kafkarkou said.

“The biggest community in the world is football. Everybody is equal, everybody shares the passion.”

The established social media networks are not exactly enjoying positive press these days and Kafkarkou is keen to point out how TheFutbolApp will differentiate itself from the pack.

“One of the benefits of the TFC, the token, is that it's a mechanism for us to share the wealth of advertising in football with our users,” he said.

“As opposed to Facebook and Twitter who keep all their revenue, our approach is to share it with the community.”

This holistic mindset can benefit all partners he says, including football clubs, whose finances, shoddy at the best of times, have been devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The most important stakeholder, however, is always the individual fan.

“We [TheFutbolApp] are closer to the fans of any club than the clubs themselves and that will continue to grow,” he added.

“We’re growing without any promotional activities at eight percent per month in terms of users. And we’ve barely warmed up, there are many more things to come.”

Having held an executive position at a Fortune 500 company in New York, Kafkarkou says it would have been easy for him and his partner to conceive of other money-making ideas.

Their motivation, however, was to create a model where “everybody wins or nobody wins”.

As with other social networks, registering on TheFutbolApp is simple. Name, location, favorite team, or teams.

“If you install the app and activate your wallet, the first thing you get is one free TFC,” Kafkarkou said. “Today that token is listed on one of the most prestigious cryptocurrency exchanges and has value of 42 cents. If you invite a friend and they activate their wallet, you get another TFC. The three most popular areas of the app are the social feed of your club, the games and the chatrooms. People can earn a lot of points which we convert to TFC playing games. In the bitcoin world you mine electronically, in our world, you socially mine. You spend time in the app and you earn it.”

The early signs were that it had universal appeal. Fifty percent of users are women.

In Cyprus, where the founders reside, over 100 businesses accept TFC in part or in whole for goods and services. The co-founders expect similar engagements elsewhere.

“We love data because you have to work with reality, not dreams,” said Kafkarkou.

“We are approaching one million transactions paid for in part or in whole with the TFC here in Cyprus. So when setting up in the UK or US, the adoption will be at least as great as Cyprus.”

The Middle East, like Africa, is proving fertile ground for new members.

“We just recently did the Arabic translations, we started updating all the social feeds for all the teams in the region,” said van Zutphen.

“It’s one of the greatest markets. The top four markets in the world in terms of the degree of intensity for the love of football are Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Brazil and Egypt. We’re super excited about being able to bring the Middle East to this app.”

Crucially, according to Kafkarkou, Arab football fans, as opposed to, say, a supporter of Premier League club, tend to support several teams in several different countries, or markets.

That will translate to more time on the app.

“We well understand the passion in the Arab states for football,” he said.

“The typical Arab fan follows three or four clubs. They follow their local club, but they also typically follow a team in La Liga, the English Premier League and also in Serie A in Italy. Frankly, they almost love them equally.”

“If you’re following your favorite player or club on Instagram you’re not allowed to post in their feed, but in our system you can, so you’re actually in the party there,” he added.

It is by design a one-stop shop, or network, for football fans. Kafkarkou calls it an “app in an app” and Van Zutphen believes it could well replace different chatrooms, forums, WhatsApp and Facebook groups, which he sees as “scattered to the wind”.

A fan on his way to a football match, can plan to meet up with supporters in a coffee shop near the stadium while checking the team line-up on his club’s feed. And then pay for his latte with TFC.

“And that is, turning [engagement] into knowledge of where you can go and also into money, tokens, that you can use to actually buy things,” he added.


Saudi jockey saddles up for Endurance World Championship in Italy

Saudi jockey saddles up for Endurance World Championship in Italy
Updated 18 September 2021

Saudi jockey saddles up for Endurance World Championship in Italy

Saudi jockey saddles up for Endurance World Championship in Italy
  • Hamoud bin Saleh Al-Badi will ride Despe Du Fonpeyrol in competition on island of Sardinia

RIYADH: Saudi jockey Hamoud bin Saleh Al-Badi is set to take part in the Endurance World Championship for junior horses currently underway on the Italian island of Sardinia.

Al-Badi, who will be riding Despe Du Fonpeyrol, booked his place at the championships after winning a qualifier in France in July and has recently been on an extensive training camp to ready himself for the competition.

He said: “We have completed all preparations to participate in this global forum, and I feel proud to represent and raise the flag of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in this tournament. God willing, I can put in a performance worthy of the name of the Kingdom.

“I would also like to extend my thanks to Prince Abdullah bin Fahd, president of the Saudi Equestrian Federation, for his continuous support, and God willing, these efforts will bear fruit through high-level performances,” Al-Badi added.


Meet Mitt Queen Ann Najjar, the boxing coach athletes and celebrities want to work with

Meet Mitt Queen Ann Najjar, the boxing coach athletes and celebrities want to work with
Updated 18 September 2021

Meet Mitt Queen Ann Najjar, the boxing coach athletes and celebrities want to work with

Meet Mitt Queen Ann Najjar, the boxing coach athletes and celebrities want to work with
  • The first generation American of Iraqi parents shot to worldwide fame thanks to viral Instagram videos during the pandemic

Ann Najjar has fast hands.

So fast she can keep up with boxers twice her size. Boxers who, over the last few years, have lined up to work with her.

Najjar is the Mitt Queen, a coach at Bomber Squad Boxing Academy in her native San Diego. Thanks to an Instagram account (@mittqueen) that has almost 610,000 followers, she has become an online sensation.

She is in Dubai as the coach of Josh Bridges, who on Saturday night will fight on the undercard at the MTK Global boxing CoreSports Fight Night 3 at Sport Society, where the main event sees Hafthor Bjornsson, The Mountain from “Games of Thrones,” take on Devon Larratt in an all-Strongman battle.

Bridges is a CrossFit athlete and the 32-year-old Najjar has overseen every step of his boxing journey.

But becoming a boxing coach happened to her by accident after she joined her brother, an MMA fighter, for training sessions when she was 20.

It turned out she had a gift few others could match.

“When I did take my first MMA class because of my brother, all our classes in San Diego had mitts included, a lot of gyms don’t have that,” Najjar told Arab News. “And everyone always wanted to be my partner because I was good at holding the mitts, and in reality it’s not that easy to hold mitts. Eventually I became the one everybody wanted to partner up with, and then year and years went by and I just got better at it.”

Though she had been a trainer for almost a decade, it was only during the last two years that Najjar’s profile skyrocketed, thanks to a video on Instagram.

“When the pandemic first hit in the US, I decided to post my first video of me holding mitts and just messing around, because I knew everybody was on their phones at the time looking at Instagram,” she said. “And then my first video went viral, about 100,000 views, and I kept posting and posting and posting until one of my videos hit over 18 million views.”

Najjar is a first-generation American, born and raised in San Diego to parents from Baghdad. Her Instagram account proudly bears the Iraqi flag.

“The thing is, it’s not only me, but my fighters also are very quick, or very big, so seeing a female holding the mitts behind it is really what intrigued everyone to want to follow me and watch what I was doing because there’s not that many females who can hold for someone so quick or someone so huge, double my size,” she added.

Najjar, aka the Mitt Queen, has become a boxing coach for athletes and celebrities in her native San Diego. (RBO)

“In reality, I have to thank Instagram, because it’s what really got me out there and everyone saw what I was doing.”

Soon celebrities started seeking her out, as did leading athletes in other sports. Her profile grew organically, she said.

“Honestly, it was one word after the other and they or their managers would contact me through Instagram,” said Najjar. “And because boxing cardio is great for all athletes, a lot of them on their off season like to box. It helps them with their footwork in their sport.”

Is Najjar ever tempted to swap the mitts for gloves and get in the ring?

“Honestly for me, at the age I’m at, the answer is no,” she said. “In the past I did think about it, I did spar all the time, but the older I’m getting I’m realizing coaching is the way for me, I love to teach, to watch people grow from the beginning."

The pride she gets is from seeing her fighters succeed, and from their appreciation of the role she plays in their preparation.

“There are moments for me that I can’t believe are true, like when Ryan Garcia calls me to hold mitts for him. Anderson Silva called me to tell me he won his fight,” Najjar said. “These guys, I sat behind the TV set and watched them fight, and that now they are calling me is unreal to me.”

Najjar was holding a training session at Real Boxing Only gym in Dubai’s Al-Quoz, but she has also had time to enjoy the sights, which were more familiar than she expected.

“It’s like Las Vegas for me, I feel like I’m at home, to be honest,” she said. “I went to the sand dunes and that was wild, I was scared out of my mind. I was in that car holding on for dear life. But culture and everything is very Americanized. Seeing everything in English and Arabic, I’m like ok, I know what I’m doing here. I feel very comfortable here.”

On Saturday night, Najjar will be ringside at Sport Society cheering on Bridges when he takes on fellow American Jacob Heppner in a bout between two CrossFit athletes.

“What people don’t know is that Josh started with me from day one, when he threw his first punch and didn’t even know what a jab was,” she said. “To see all the pieces of the puzzle come together, that’s what I’m really excited about. And I want to prove to the world that, yes, I can start someone from day one, not knowing how to punch, and turn them into that fighter.”


Saudi Arabia to host world’s top handball teams at IHF 2021 Super Globe

Saudi Arabia to host world’s top handball teams at IHF 2021 Super Globe
Updated 18 September 2021

Saudi Arabia to host world’s top handball teams at IHF 2021 Super Globe

Saudi Arabia to host world’s top handball teams at IHF 2021 Super Globe
  • Tournament organized by Saudi Handball Federation will take place in Jeddah on Oct. 5-9

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Sports has announced that Jeddah will host the 2021 International Handball Federation Super Globe from Oct. 5 to 9.

It will be the second time in a row that the tournament, held in coordination with the Saudi Handball Federation and part of the Quality of Life Program, has been staged in the Kingdom.

Ten clubs from different countries will participate in the competition taking place at King Abdullah Sports City, with the Al-Noor and Al-Wehda teams representing the Kingdom.

They will be joined by Asian champions Al-Duhail of Qatar; European champions Aalborg of Denmark; Oceania champions the University of Sydney; San Francisco CalHeat, champions of North America and the Caribbean; Brazil’s Pineros, champions of South and Central America; African champions Zamalek of Egypt; reigning champions of the competition Barcelona; and German team Magdeburg, participating at the invitation of the IHF.

Saudi Minister of Sport and chairman of the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee, Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, said: “We are happy once again to host the largest handball club championships, and with the participation of the continental champions for the second time in a row, which is an extension of the championships and events hosted by our country.”

Dammam hosted the previous edition of the tournament in 2019, after the Kingdom won the hosting rights for four consecutive editions from that year.


Riyadh Season announce Paris Saint-Germain’s participation in Riyadh Season Cup

Riyadh Season announce Paris Saint-Germain’s participation in Riyadh Season Cup
Updated 17 September 2021

Riyadh Season announce Paris Saint-Germain’s participation in Riyadh Season Cup

Riyadh Season announce Paris Saint-Germain’s participation in Riyadh Season Cup
  • Riyadh hosts one of the biggest global festivals featuring over 500 events across Saudi Arabia’s capital
  • The match will be held during the third week of January of 2022

RIYADH: Riyadh Season has announced that Paris Saint-Germain’s (PSG) will participate in the Riyadh Season Cup in January 2022.

A one-match tournament will feature PSG prestigious roster play the stars of Al Hilal SFC and Al Nassr FC, the region’s two biggest clubs as a part of a series of amazing events planned for Riyadh Season.

PSG will come to Riyadh during the most-awaited Riyadh Season, which attracted more than 10 million visitors in during its first edition in 2019.

The match will be one of the top and most exciting events of Riyadh Season and held during in the third week of January of 2022.

Paris Saint-Germain is one of the most glamorous football clubs in the world today with its splendid list of superstars. PSG is the first French football club ever to play in Saudi Arabia.

Riyadh Season returns this fall as one of the biggest global entertainment festivals spread across 5.4 millions sqm in the Saudi capital with 14 different zones featuring a diverse selection of different events and experiences from October 2021 to March 2022 attracting visitors from across the globe.


Guardiola defends his plea for ‘more fans’ at Man City game

Guardiola defends his plea for ‘more fans’ at Man City game
Updated 17 September 2021

Guardiola defends his plea for ‘more fans’ at Man City game

Guardiola defends his plea for ‘more fans’ at Man City game
  • A clash has broken out between City’s esteemed manager and a section of the team’s followers after Guardiola’s plea for “more people” to attend City’s Premier League home match against Southampton
  • The attendance against Leipzig was 38,062 and the Etihad’s capacity is about 55,000

MANCHESTER: For Pep Guardiola, it was a rallying cry ahead of what he expects to be a tough game.
For some Manchester City supporters, it was an ill-timed comment that questioned the loyalty of the club’s fan base.
A clash has broken out between City’s esteemed manager and a section of the team’s followers after Guardiola’s plea for “more people” to attend City’s Premier League home match against Southampton on Saturday — three days after a hard-fought 6-3 win over Leipzig in the Champions League at Etihad Stadium.
The attendance against Leipzig was 38,062. The Etihad’s capacity is about 55,000.
One of the people unhappy with Guardiola’s remarks was Kevin Parker, general secretary of City’s official supporters’ club, who accused the Spaniard of failing to understand the difficulties of attending games on a midweek evening and playing into the hands of opposition teams’ fans who often taunt City for not having capacity crowds at some matches.
“He’s absolutely the best coach in the world but, in the nicest possible way, I think maybe he should stick to that,” said Parker, who described Guardiola’s comments were “disappointing and uncalled for.”
Guardiola responded to Parker on Friday in a news conference ahead of the Southampton game, saying he would “definitely not” be apologizing for his comments and that there had been a “misunderstanding.”
“Don’t misunderstand or put words in my mouth that I didn’t say,” Guardiola said. “That’s what I don’t like. I never will be a problem for my fans. If I am a problem for my fans, I will step aside. Not a problem for me.”
Guardiola said he had seen his players look “exhausted” in the locker room after the end-to-end game against Leipzig and quickly realized they would need fans to get behind them against Southampton, given the quick turnaround of the games and Southampton’s pressing game and energetic style.
“When you play in the Champion League, it’s so demanding on your physicality, and mentally, when they (Southampton) have a long week to prepare the game,” Guardiola said. “So that’s why we need to be all together — the players, the supporters, everyone, to help us to do our best. I know exactly our fans will be there tomorrow to support, and hopefully Mr. Parker can come to watch us.
“Mr. Parker,” Guardiola added, should “review his comments.”
City has struggled to fill the Etihad for some home games in the Champions League, especially in the first one of each season’s group stage. It has led to some rivals fans using the nickname “the Emptyhad.”
There are some reasons given for the lower European attendances — some fans’ disaffection with the tournament organizer, UEFA, for what they perceive as unfair sanctions handed to, or affecting, City in the Champions League; City being involved in games in so many competitions that fans pick and choose matches; the pandemic affecting fans’ finances; a digital ticketing system that doesn’t allow fans to transfer tickets to others if they can’t attend a midweek game.
The fan bases of City’s main rivals in English soccer, including Manchester United and Liverpool, are far bigger globally.
“We are who we are. We are proud of who we are,” Guardiola said. “I know the history, I learned about the history of this club when it was in the lower division, and what it means to travel and follow the team. I respect it a lot.”
City has had near-capacity crowds for its first two home matches of the Premier League season — 5-0 wins over Norwich and Arsenal.