Ahmed Al-Sabban plotting successful path for Saudi fencing all way to 2024 Olympics

Ahmed Al-Sabban plotting successful path for Saudi fencing all way to 2024 Olympics
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There has been a noticeable rise in female participation in fencing in Saudi Arabia. (Supplied)
Ahmed Al-Sabban plotting successful path for Saudi fencing all way to 2024 Olympics
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Participants in Saudi Arabia’s under-17 fencing championship at the Prince Saud Bin Jalawy Stadium in Alkhobar. (SPA)
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Updated 28 May 2021

Ahmed Al-Sabban plotting successful path for Saudi fencing all way to 2024 Olympics

Ahmed Al-Sabban plotting successful path for Saudi fencing all way to 2024 Olympics
  • Despite the pandemic’s disruptions, the president of the Saudi Fencing Federation has overseen a period of significant progress for the sport in the Kingdom
  • It is perhaps in women’s fencing where the biggest steps have been taken, with Saudi female athletes increasingly embracing the sport

It’s not been a good year and half for sporting progress around the world.

In March 2020, the global pandemic brought almost all competitions to a standstill, and as a sense of normality has returned, sporting federations in the Middle East and around the world have struggled to get back on track after a long period of inaction.

But for the guardians of at least one sport in Saudi Arabia, the last year was anything but wasted.

“During the pandemic we did not stop working,” said Ahmed Al-Sabban, president of the Saudi Fencing Federation. “We had online lectures, daily training sessions on Zoom from the club and centers. We even got older players to give talks to the younger ones about their experiences in fencing.”

While other sports in the Kingdom had no option but to wait out the lockdowns and disruptions, the fencing federation took part in the 2020 AF Virtual Fencing Junior Intercontinental Sabre Cup in June 2020, as the pandemic raged.

“We didn’t stop, on the contrary, we were very active,” Al-Sabban said. “During the lockdown we also returned to the regular season and we organized tournaments for boys and girls, and the last participation for us was the qualification for the Tokyo Olympics in the Asian Zone.”

The Asian Olympic Qualifying Tournament took place in Tashkent, Uzbekistan at the end of April, and produced some encouraging Saudi performances, if not qualification, for Tokyo.

“Unfortunately we did not succeed in getting any spots but we did have a third-place finish among the Asian countries,” he said. “It was an excellent result, especially as Jawad Al-Dawood had not taken part in any competition since 2019, there was no adequate preparation before the qualification games. But for me third place was a fine result and shows that we are capable of qualifying in the future, thanks to our program for the next four years.

“Hopefully we can qualify for Paris 2024, and hopefully our new program of participation abroad will start after Tokyo for both men and women,” said Al-Sabban, who represented Saudi’s national fencing team in the 1980s.

Last week Al-Sabban was re-elected as president of the Saudi Fencing Federation — a post he first landed in 2017 — until 2024, and has already set out plans to increase participation in fencing among young Saudis.

“According to our program over the next four years we will look to participate in every senior competition that can gain us points, because that will help our ranking for Paris 2024,” he said. “For the age groups for boys and girls we will focus primarily on the Arab and Asian competitions for the under-17s. In 2019 we had our under-17s in the Asia league, and we were ranked first. We may even have overlooked the seniors in favor of the ages groups recently, but it was unintentional. Thankfully, as a federation we now have better presence than before, with centers in Jeddah, Riyadh, Madina, Macca and Taif.”

It is perhaps in women’s fencing where the biggest steps have been taken, with Saudi female athletes increasingly embracing a sport that is seen as elegant, competitive and, crucially, culturally modest. It is something the federation has purposefully pushed for.

“We’ve worked on it. It’s a noble sport, a sophisticated sport, like equestrian activities,” Al-Sabban said. “It’s a unique, royal, sport and the participation has been great. And not just from the targeted younger female fencers, but in recent times we’ve seen a rise in women taking up fencing for fun, taking part in local competitions for fun.”

Another sign of the popularity of fencing among women in the Kingdom is the emergence of Malaak Al-Sultan, Hana Hilmy and Wudyan Al-Maliki as the first three female referees in the history of Saudi fencing. The course to train them was at the Fencing Hall at Prince Saud Bin Juluwi Sports City in Al-Raakah, Al-Khobar.

“We organzied the first program for Saudi female fencing referees, and we graduated the first group,” Al-Sabban said. “We have a plan in the next five years to have a holistic set-up which is capable of organizing and refereeing women’s tournaments. We also have an agreement with the International Fencing Federation that Saudi Arabia will be the designated destination in the Middle East to train and graduate referees.”

For Al-Sabban, the long-term aim is for the Kingdom to produce fencers who are not simply content to qualify for events, but to be competitive and win medals as well.

“The Asian Zone is the strongest in the world, because it includes Korea, Japan and China,” he said. “So my ambition is to be in the top six or top 10 in Asia, and if I’m honest I’d say that fencing in the recent past, though not ignored, was slow on the uptake. In the 1980s and 1990s, fencing in Saudi Arabia was quite advanced. Now we have ambitions to be ranked among the top six or 10 in Asia again. We will work to ensure qualifications through our ranking in Asia. We have a long-term plan.”

The plan is to spread awareness of the game and ensure that facilities are provided for those wishing to take the sport up. After that, top-class training programs are on the agenda.

“Can you believe that in Riyadh demand for participation has surpassed availability?” Al-Sabban said. “In Jeddah participation is good also, but in Riyadh it’s very high. Soon we will be partnering with Mahd Academy, where fencing will be one of the prioritized sports. From there we will target schools and the private sector. In Makkah there is a private academy, and there are Olympic centers in Jeddah, Riyadh and Al Sharqiya. The spread to schools level will be via Mahd,” he said.


Clippers beat Jazz in Game 3 of NBA series, cut deficit to 2-1 

Clippers beat Jazz in Game 3 of NBA series, cut deficit to 2-1 
Updated 13 June 2021

Clippers beat Jazz in Game 3 of NBA series, cut deficit to 2-1 

Clippers beat Jazz in Game 3 of NBA series, cut deficit to 2-1 
  • Game 4 is Monday night at Staples Center in Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES: Kawhi Leonard had 34 points and 12 rebounds, Paul George added 31 points and the Los Angeles Clippers got back into their second-round series against the Utah Jazz with a 132-106 victory in Game 3 on Saturday night.
Leonard and George each scored at least 30 in the same playoff game for the second time to help the Clippers cut Utah’s series lead to 2-1.
George shot only 34.3 percent from the field in the first two games but was 12 of 24, including 6 of 10 on 3-pointers. He had 13 points in the second quarter, eight during a 13-2 run when LA seized control and took a 57-41 advantage with 2:54 remaining in the first half.
Leonard scored 24 points in the second half. Reggie Jackson and Nicolas Batum added 17 points apiece for the Clippers.
Game 4 is Monday night at Staples Center.
Donovan Mitchell led Utah with 30 points, his fifth straight games with at least 30. The last player to do that was Leonard last year in the first round against Dallas.
Joe Ingles had 19 points for Utah and Jordan Clarkson added 14. The Jazz were 19 of 44 on 3-pointers, but 17 of 40 inside the arc as the Clippers’ zone defense caused problems.

MITCHELL’S NIGHT
Mitchell missed his first four shots, including a pair of drives to the basket, and didn’t make his first basket until there was 7:34 left in the second quarter. He then proceeded to score Utah’s next 16 points, which included four 3-pointers.
It was the first time in his last 23 games that Mitchell had gone scoreless in the first quarter.

TIP INS
Jazz: Ruby Gobert had 12 points and 10 rebounds. ... Clarkson was assessed a Flagrant-1 foul for slapping Ivica Zubac in the face after a rebound 20 seconds into the second quarter. ... Guard Mike Conley missed his third straight game because of a mild right hamstring strain.
Clippers: LA had struggled from the perimeter in the first two games but was 19 of 36 on 3-pointers Saturday night. Jackson had five 3-pointers, Batum added four and Luke Kennard had a pair in the second half to keep the lead in double digits.
 


Unseeded Krejcikova wins maiden Grand Slam title in Paris

Unseeded Krejcikova wins maiden Grand Slam title in Paris
Updated 12 June 2021

Unseeded Krejcikova wins maiden Grand Slam title in Paris

Unseeded Krejcikova wins maiden Grand Slam title in Paris
  • 25-year-old Czech champion pays emotional tribute to her mentor Jana Novotna

PARIS: Barbora Krejcikova won her maiden Grand Slam singles title at the French Open on Saturday, beating Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova to become the first Czech woman in 40 years to conquer Roland Garros before dedicating her victory to former Wimbledon champion Jana Novotna who died four years ago.

Krejcikova, ranked 33 in the world and playing just her fifth main draw in a Slams singles event, triumphed 6-1, 2-6, 6-4 for a second career title.

The 25-year-old emulates compatriot Hana Mandlikova who claimed the trophy in Paris in 1981.

The 25-year-old Krejcikova paid an emotional tribute to her mentor Novotna, who died of cancer at the age of 49 in 2017.

“It’s hard to put into words. I cannot believe I have just won a Grand Slam,” said Krejcikova who was still outside the top 100 when the 2020 French Open took place last October.

“I spent a lot of time with Jana before she died. Her last words to me were ‘enjoy tennis and try and win a Grand Slam’.

“I know she’s looking after me. All this is pretty much because she is looking after me.

“It was amazing that I got the chance to meet her. She was such an inspiration. I miss her and I hope she’s really happy,” added Krejcikova who had to save a match point in her semifinal to defeat Maria Sakkari.

Krejcikova, who can also win a third Grand Slam women’s doubles title on Sunday with Katerina Siniakova, was presented with the trophy by Czech-born Martina Navratilova who won two French Opens in 1982 and 1984 but as an American citizen.

Krejcikova will rise to number 15 in the world as a result of her win on Saturday as she became the sixth successive first-time major winner in Paris.

She is also the third unseeded champion at Roland Garros in the last five years after Jelena Ostapenko in 2017 and Iga Swiatek in 2020.

If she adds the doubles on Sunday, she’ll be the first player since Mary Pierce in 2000 to claim both titles at the same Roland Garros.

Pavlyuchenkova was playing in her first Slam final at the 52nd attempt and was attempting to become the third oldest first-time winner of a major.

“I was preparing a speech for this moment ever since I was a little kid and now I am lost for words,” said the 29-year-old.

“Many thanks to my friends who came here from all over the world for one match — maybe they thought this was my one and only chance!

“Congratulations to Barbora. I don’t know how you play singles and doubles. I was dead on the last point.”

In a nervy start to the final, Krejcikova was broken in the first game, serving up two double faults.

However, the Russian was unable to capitalize and dropped the next six games as her Czech opponent grabbed three breaks and raced way with the opener inside half an hour.

Krejcikova was rewarded for her bold attacking, hitting 13 winners to the Russian’s seven.

Pavlyuchenkova, who made her Slam debut back in 2007, was the more composed player in the second set, stretching out to 5-1.

A medical timeout at 5-2, during which she was seen munching Haribo gummy bears, merely delayed the Russian leveling the final.

In the decider, the players exchanged breaks in the third and fourth games, before the Czech broke to love for 4-3 on the back of a 10-shot rally. Pavlyuchenkova saved two championship points in the ninth game and a third in the 10th but Krejcikova became champion on the fourth when the Russian hit long.

Both women capitalized on a draw in which the top seeds fell and just kept falling.

World No. 1 and 2019 champion Ashleigh Barty hobbled out in the second round.

Serena Williams was knocked out in the fourth round, world number two Naomi Osaka withdrew after one match, while 2018 champion Simona Halep never even made it to Paris.


Denmark’s Christian Eriksen conscious in hospital after collapsing at Euro 2020

Denmark's Christian Eriksen (R) in action with Finland's Jere Uronen. (Reuters)
Denmark's Christian Eriksen (R) in action with Finland's Jere Uronen. (Reuters)
Updated 12 June 2021

Denmark’s Christian Eriksen conscious in hospital after collapsing at Euro 2020

Denmark's Christian Eriksen (R) in action with Finland's Jere Uronen. (Reuters)
  • The Danish DBU football association tweeted that the 29-year-old was 'awake and at Rigshospitalet for further examinations'

COPENHAGEN: Denmark midfielder Christian Eriksen was conscious in hospital on Saturday, soccer officials said, after collapsing during his side's Euro 2020 opening soccer match with Finland and being given CPR on the pitch.

Eriksen collapsed suddenly in the 42nd minute of the match while running near the left touchline after a Denmark throw-in. As a hush fell over the 16,000-strong crowd, his teammates formed a ring around him as medics pumped his chest.

A Reuters photographer at the game saw Eriksen raise his hand as he was carried away from the pitch on a stretcher, and the Danish football association later said on Twitter that the 29-year-old was awake at the nearby Rigshospitalet, where he was being examined.

“We have been in contact with him and the players have spoken to Christian,” said Peter Moller of the Danish Football Association.

The game was initially suspended but it was decided that it would resume at 1830 GMT, with Finland eventually running out 1-0 winners.

“He is doing well and they are playing the match for Christian,” Moller said.

The game was scoreless when Eriksen, who plays club soccer for Inter Milan in Italy, collapsed just before halftime in their Group B clash. Teammates Martin Braithwaite and Thomas Delaney rushed to assist him, with Delaney beckoning furiously for medical assistance.

People gathered outside bars in central Copenhagen, many in tears, in the long period when Eriksen's condition remained unclear.

Both teams subsequently left the field with officials holding up sheets to hide the stricken player from view, and the stadium announcer told fans that the game had been suspended due to a medical emergency and to stay in their seats.

The crowd at the Parken stadium in Copenhagen sang the Danish national anthem and shouted “Christian Eriksen” while they were waiting for news about the player.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Christian Eriksen and his family,” Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo said on Instagram. “The world of football stands together hoping for good news. I’m counting on finding you soon back on the pitch, Chris! Stay strong!”

Eriksen's team-mate at Inter Milan, Lautaro Martinez, wrote on the site: “Come on Chris! Please Chris.”


Five things we learned from penultimate World Cup qualifiers as Gulf’s main challengers win again

Five things we learned from penultimate World Cup qualifiers as Gulf’s main challengers win again
Updated 12 June 2021

Five things we learned from penultimate World Cup qualifiers as Gulf’s main challengers win again

Five things we learned from penultimate World Cup qualifiers as Gulf’s main challengers win again
  • Saudi Arabia left it late against Singapore while UAE cruised against Indonesia, but neither can afford any slip-ups on the final matchday

Friday was another good evening for Arab teams in the penultimate set of matches in the second round of 2022 World Cup qualification. The big teams all won but then so did most of their group rivals to set up a what is sure to be tense final matchday.

Here are five things we learned.

1. Relief for Renard and all of Saudi Arabia

A 3-0 win for Saudi sounds comprehensive but it was scoreless heading into the final 10 minutes and Singapore, determined and resolute in defense and unusually cynical in terms of running down the clock, had just hit the post. There were nerves in Riyadh, and fans who had expected a regulation win against a team that had lost 5-0 to Uzbekistan and 4-0 to Palestine in the past eight days were suddenly checking the rankings of the best performing second-placed teams.

Saudi Arabia were starting to run out of ideas — and not beating Singapore would have been a huge blow to confidence as well as chances of reaching the next round — when the main man Salem Al-Dawsari popped up with a goal six minutes from time. Then the fleet-footed Fahad Al-Muwallad took advantage of a mistake and all was well with the world. He helped spare coach Renard a very difficult time with one consolation being that Uzbekistan also struggled in their Yemen clash. It will be forgotten if the right result is collected against Uzbekistan on Tuesday.

2. As expected, it comes down to the final game for UAE

After successive defeats at the hands of Thailand and Vietnam all the way back in 2019, the UAE would surely have settled for going into the final game still in control of its own destiny and that is the case.

Once again, Ali Mabkhout and Fabio Lima got on the scoresheet in a comprehensive 5-0 win against Indonesia to make it three wins out of three in the last week or so. Vietnam will be a tougher test of course and the two-point advantage the Golden Stars have is crucial. It is not just that the Reds can afford to draw, but that position means that Vietnam coach Park Hang-seo, Mr. Pragmatism, will love nothing more than being able to sit back, let the UAE do the running and hit on the counter-attack. It could be a frustrating 90 minutes for the Emiratis. 

3. Iraq set themselves up for a huge test

The 2007 Asian champions have slipped under the radar a little but have been in great form and the 1-0 win over Hong Kong was a 19th game without defeat. It wasn’t a vintage performance, but sometimes there are games in which you just have to win by any means and this was one of those. Iraq has become adept at grinding out results and may need to do something similar against Iran on Tuesday.

Despite the great form, Iraq will face their toughest test for years and they may well need that two-point advantage if they are to finish first — though it may well be the case that second will be enough. Iran has won all three of their games in Bahrain and have real momentum. They also have players such as Sardar Azmoun and Mehdi Taremi who are coming off great European seasons and look like scoring every time they get the ball. It is a huge game for both teams.

4. Yemen did Saudi Arabia, and themselves, proud

If Uzbekistan thought all it had to do was turn up against Yemen to take the three points it was very much mistaken. The veteran defender Ahmed Wahid was everywhere in the middle, intercepting, instructing and tackling and just using all of his 35 years to keep the men from Sanaa in the game. Yemen has played little football in recent years due to the conflict in the country but pushed Uzbekistan all the way. Indeed, the Central Asians only won due to a first-half penalty. 

The stage is not over for Yemen. The team may be bottom of the group but if they defeat Palestine on Tuesday then they will finish third behind Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan, two powers of the Asian game, and that will be a success and something to be proud of. It would also be a huge step toward another appearance at the Asian Cup.

5. Kuwait and Jordan trip each other up

These two second-tier West Asian powers have had a disappointing campaign so far with neither really suggesting they are ready to move up to the next level; Kuwait especially because it has had home advantage since the second round resumed but failed to score a single goal against Australia and Jordan.

The 0-0 draw between the two on Friday has surely ended the hopes of both teams and even if Jordan defeat Australia on Tuesday, it is unlikely that it will be enough to finish as one of the best four runners-up. Both will look back and wonder if they could not have done more.


Phoenix Suns spoil Nikola Jokic’s NBA MVP party, beat Nuggets 116-102

Phoenix Suns spoil Nikola Jokic’s NBA MVP party, beat Nuggets 116-102
Updated 13 June 2021

Phoenix Suns spoil Nikola Jokic’s NBA MVP party, beat Nuggets 116-102

Phoenix Suns spoil Nikola Jokic’s NBA MVP party, beat Nuggets 116-102
  • Suns take 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series
  • Game 4 is Sunday at Ball Arena in Denver

DENVER: Deandre Ayton scrutinized the box score and couldn’t believe his eyes as he read Nikola Jokic’s stat line: 32 points, 20 rebounds, 10 assists.
“That’s insane. That’s the MVP,” Ayton said after the Phoenix Suns overcame the Joker’s historic triple-double to thump Denver 116-102 Friday night, putting the Nuggets on the brink of elimination.
Following a raucous pregame ceremony celebrating his MVP award, Jokic joined Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only players with 30 points, 20 boards and 10 assists in an NBA playoff game. Jokic, though, was apologetic afterward, telling his teammates this loss was on him because of his 13-for-29 shooting performance.
Nonsense, said Denver guard Monte Morris, who called Jokic’s performance phenomenal.
“He’s carrying us,” Morris said. “We’ve got to help him.”
Morris scored 21 off the bench but Denver’s four other starters scored just 30 points, half by Michael Porter Jr., who was 5 of 13 from the floor.
Devin Booker scored 28 points and teamed with Chris Paul to lead a steady offensive onslaught that countered Jokic’s big night.
“We knew this was going to be an emotional game for them with Joker being presented with the trophy before the game,” Paul said. “We just talked about withstanding their runs.”
Jokic seemed to consider his big game more horrific tha historic.
“I’m frustrated with myself because I missed shots,” said Jokic, who also missed four of nine free throws. “I didn’t play on top of my game, especially shooting wise. It would be much easier for us if I started making shots. Of course, they’re making it tough for me to make shots.”
With their sixth straight victory, the second-seeded Suns took a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. Game 4 is Sunday at Ball Arena.
Paul had 27 points, eight assists and three steals for the Suns, who pulled away after halftime for the third straight time. All five of Phoenix’s starters scored in double figures.
They are a one win away from their first trip to the Western Conference Finals since 2009-10 — which was the last time Phoenix made the playoffs.
The third-seeded Nuggets, who reached the conference finals last year, are on the brink of getting swept in a playoff series for the first time since the Lakers bounced them out of the first round in 2007-08.
Jokic dedicated his MVP award to his teammates during a loud pregame ceremony that Nuggets coach Michael Malone had hoped would energize his team that has lost by 17, 25 and now 14 points in this second-round series.
“I just feel bad that we weren’t able to pull out a win for them because they made this atmosphere electric,” Malone said of the crowd of 18,277.
“During the trophy ceremony, we said right when they get off the court let’s go out there and be locked in,” Booker relayed.
Suns coach Monty Williams said his team was ready for the energy boost the big crowd supplied by serenading Jokic.
“We didn’t want to disrespect Jokic’s moment. At the same time, we also came here to win a game,” Williams said. “That’s something we stressed for a while, being able to have poise in those moments. Whether it’s an emotional fouling situation or something like tonight.”
The Nuggets’ first MVP was mostly MIA early on as the Suns shot a sizzling 74.46 percent in jumping out to a 37-27 lead after one quarter. Jokic scored seven points in that quarter but none until the 4:45 mark.
Malone, who accused his team of quitting after a blowout loss in Game 2, said before tip-off that he liked his team’s resiliency, and that opinion didn’t change afterward.
“I thought our guys played really hard. I think we let it all out there,” Malone said. “I really think this game came down to two things: turnovers” and the Suns’ 14-2 run spanning the third and fourth quarter.
That’s something they couldn’t overcome, not even with their MVP giving them another epic MVP performance.

TIP-INS:
Suns: Phoenix led by double digits much of the first half, but went cold over the final 90 seconds of the second quarter, allowing the Nuggets to pull to 59-55 at halftime. ... The Suns shot 50 percent in the first half both from beyond the arc and from the field, and they made all 11 of their free throws.
Nuggets: Missed their first seven shots after halftime, sapping them of the momentum they took into the break by closing on a 6-0 run. ... Will Barton added 14 points in his second game back from a hamstring injury.