Saudi sprinter and rower to carry Kingdom’s flag at Olympics opening ceremony

Yasmine Al-Dabbagh and Husein Alireza will be Saudi Arabia's flagbearers at the opening ceremony of Tokyo 2020. (Supplied/SAOC)
Yasmine Al-Dabbagh and Husein Alireza will be Saudi Arabia's flagbearers at the opening ceremony of Tokyo 2020. (Supplied/SAOC)
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Updated 22 July 2021

Saudi sprinter and rower to carry Kingdom’s flag at Olympics opening ceremony

Yasmine Al-Dabbagh and Husein Alireza will be Saudi Arabia's flagbearers at the opening ceremony of Tokyo 2020. (Supplied/SAOC)
  • Yasmine Al-Dabbagh and Husein Alireza will be flag bearers on Friday; Karate star Tarek Hamdi given the honor for closing ceremony

RIYADH: Saudi rower Husein Alireza and 100 meter sprinter Yasmine Al-Dabbagh will carry the Kingdom’s flag at the opening ceremony of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo on Friday.

This is the first time in Olympic Games history that participating nations could nominate a male and a female athlete to carry their flags.

The Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee also confirmed on Thursday that Karate star Tarek Hamdi will be the flag bearer during the closing ceremony on Aug. 8.

Saudi Arabia is sending its largest-ever Olympic delegation to the games in Japan. It includes 11 individual athletes plus the country’s under-23 football team. They will compete in nine sports, surpassing the country’s record of six at the Athens Olympics in 2004.

Alireza will take to the water on Friday in the heats of the men’s singles sculls event at the newly-built Sea Forest Waterway. Al-Dabbagh will line up in the 100m heats on July 30, the first day of the athletics competitions.

Hamdi is the most decorated athlete in the Saudi delegation, with seven gold medals from various competitions. His quest for Olympic karate glory, in the 75 kilogram category, will begin on Aug. 6.


Tennis ace Novak Djokovic ‘not sure’ about US Open fitness after Tokyo Olympics nightmare

Tennis ace Novak Djokovic ‘not sure’ about US Open fitness after Tokyo Olympics nightmare
Updated 6 min 25 sec ago

Tennis ace Novak Djokovic ‘not sure’ about US Open fitness after Tokyo Olympics nightmare

Tennis ace Novak Djokovic ‘not sure’ about US Open fitness after Tokyo Olympics nightmare
  • Serb could become the first man to complete a calendar Grand Slam since Rod Laver in 1969

TOKYO: World number one Novak Djokovic said he was “not sure” about his fitness for the US Open after pulling out of the Tokyo Olympics mixed doubles bronze medal match with a shoulder injury on Saturday.
The 34-year-old Serb could become the first man to complete a calendar Grand Slam since Rod Laver in 1969 when the US Open gets under way on August 30.
The withdrawal in Tokyo came after the 20-time major champion lost his cool on his way to a surprise 6-4, 6-7 (6/8), 6-3 defeat against Pablo Carreno Busta in the Olympics singles bronze-medal match.
He admitted that his exertions in Japan have taken their toll but he still hopes to be fit enough to challenge at Flushing Meadows.
“The consequences physically hopefully will not create a problem for me for the US Open, but that’s something that I’m not sure about right now,” said Djokovic.
“But I’m not regretting for giving it all because at the end of the day, when you play for your country, that’s necessary.”
The International Tennis Federation said Djokovic had withdrawn with a “left shoulder injury.”
“Ashleigh Barty and John Peers receive a walkover against Djokovic and Nina Stojanovic and win the bronze medal for Australia,” the ITF added.
Djokovic had been eyeing two gold medals when he played the singles and mixed doubles semifinals on Friday — but less than 24 hours after his hopes for gold were ended — he was preparing to leave the Ariake Tennis Park without a medal of any color.
He lost a gruelling match to Carreno Busta which lasted two hours and 47 minutes in suffocating heat, despite saving five match points.
The Serbian sporting icon’s best result at the Olympics remains his bronze medal in Beijing in 2008.
“I just didn’t deliver yesterday and today,” said Djokovic, whose singles loss to Alexander Zverev ended his Golden Grand Slam bid.
“The level of tennis dropped, also due to exhaustion, mentally and physically.”
His next opportunity to win an Olympic title will come in Paris in three years’ time, when he will be 37.
“I know that I will bounce back. I will try to keep going for Paris Olympic Games and fight for my country to win medals,” insisted Djokovic.
“I’m sorry that I disappointed a lot of sports fans in my country. But that’s sport, I gave it all, whatever I had left in the tank, which was not so much. I left it out on the court.”
On Saturday, Djokovic brought back memories of his infamous default against Carreno Busta last year at the US Open, when he inadvertently struck a ball at a line judge.
This time he threw his racquet high into the empty stands as he saw a break point come and go in the opening game of the third set, and continued to cut an angry figure, destroying another racquet by smashing it against the net post.
He was given a warning by the umpire after that second incident, but not following the first.
“It was an emotional outburst and it happens,” said Djokovic. “You’re tense on the court, in the heat of the battle.
“It’s not the first time and it’s not the last time probably. It’s not nice, of course, but it’s part of, I guess, who I am.
“I don’t like doing these things, I’m sorry for sending this kind of message, but we’re all human beings and sometimes it’s hard to control.”


Extreme E announces new plans to race in Sardinia this year

Extreme E announces new plans to race in Sardinia this year
Updated 31 July 2021

Extreme E announces new plans to race in Sardinia this year

Extreme E announces new plans to race in Sardinia this year
  • Decision comes after postponement of planned events in Brazil, Argentina due to COVID-19 situation in South America

LONDON: Extreme E, the electric off-road motor racing series, has revealed it has reached an agreement in principle with Sardinian officials to host the fourth event of its opening season, the Island X Prix, on Oct. 23-24.

The move to the Italian island follows the series’ decision to postpone its originally planned events in Brazil and Argentina due to ongoing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) developments in South America.

“I am pleased to confirm that Extreme E is finalizing plans to hold an Island X Prix in Sardinia, Italy, and that we are delighted to have the support of Sardinian President Christian Solinas and the Automobile Club d’Italia as we plan our first European event,” Alejandro Agag, founder and CEO of Extreme E, said.

“Extreme E was built around the ethos of racing electric vehicles in remote environments in an effort to raise awareness for climate change issues and showcase the performance and benefits of low-carbon vehicles,” he said. “However, this crisis is not a problem which only affects remote locations. It is becoming increasingly noticeable closer to home, across North America, and here across Europe, with rising temperatures, heatwaves and wildfires, which currently rage in Sardinia itself, being some of the latest devastating examples.

“Together with our supportive hosts and our Scientific Committee and partners, we will use the power of sport to educate on the causes of these climate issues which are taking place right here in front of us, as we aim to open eyes even wider to the need for all of us to take collective action, now, before it’s too late.” 

Solinas has confirmed that the Sardinian region will work alongside the organizers for the success of the event.

Scientists are warning of worsening extreme weather patterns if global temperatures continue to rise without solutions put in place to cut carbon emissions and that greenhouse gas levels are already too high “for a manageable future for humanity.”

Richard Washington, professor of climate science at the University of Oxford and founding member of Extreme E’s Scientific Committee, said: “Rising temperatures and wildfires are now a threat across every continent. In just the last couple of years, we have seen devastation in the Amazon, Australia, Siberia, Canada and the Mediterranean region. With thresholds already crossed by climate change, wildfires are more extensive, more intense, more damaging and last longer. New ways of forecasting wildfires and new ways of adapting to them are urgently needed.

“Ultimately, the driver of all this is climate change,” he added. “To reduce the devastation, we need to stem the driver of that change, and that means cutting carbon emissions. Continue to live as we do, and the carbon emissions by the end of the century will make the wildfires of recent years look modest. Extreme E is at the forefront of the drive towards a better future, a new way of doing things and a world which does not rely on deadly carbon emissions.” 

So far, the series has journeyed to the deserts of AlUla, Saudi Arabia, and the beaches of Senegal, West Africa, where it has educated on the issues of desertification, coastal erosion and plastic pollution, and is about to race in Greenland to shine a spotlight on the melting ice cap. The sport-for-purpose series highlights the impact of climate change and promotes the benefits of electric vehicles and low-carbon solutions in the fight to help reduce global emission levels.

Extreme E has attracted drivers from some of the biggest disciplines in motorsport. Formula One world champion Nico Rosberg’s Rosberg X Racing currently leads the championship standings, closely followed by seven-time Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton’s X44 team. Former Formula One competitor Jenson Button also leads his own JBXE entry. The world-class drivers in Extreme E include rally legends Carlos Sainz Snr. and Sébastien Loeb and FIA World Rallycross Champions Johan Kristoffersson, Timmy Hansen and Mattias Ekström competing alongside leading female drivers, including Molly Taylor, Jamie Chadwick, Catie Munnings, Cristina Gutiérrez and more.

All teams include a male and female driver who complete a lap apiece of the Extreme E racecourse, with a driver switch taking place midway and with both drivers competing together for success.

Extreme E races — known as an X Prix — take place over two days, within an area no larger than 10 km squared.

As well as using sport to shine a global spotlight on climate issues in its five locations, Extreme E will work alongside local experts in each region to implement positive legacy initiatives dependent on local needs. Further details on the Island X Prix’s overall purpose and legacy plans will be confirmed in the coming weeks.


Saudi Arabian judoka praised by Japan media to play against Israeli player

Saudi Arabian judoka praised by Japan media to play against Israeli player
Updated 31 July 2021

Saudi Arabian judoka praised by Japan media to play against Israeli player

Saudi Arabian judoka praised by Japan media to play against Israeli player
  • ‘This game shows that sports can transcend political and external influences’
  • ‘Al-Qahtani was proud to be a role model for women in her home country’

TOKYO: Japanese media praised the decision by Saudi Arabian Judoka Tahani Al-Qahtani to play against Israeli Raz Hershko in the first round of the 78-kg class at the Tokyo Olympics Games on Friday.

Japan’s Asahi newspaper reported that the match “had drawn attention” after two athletes from Algeria and Sudan refused to play against their counterparts from Israel.

“Al-Qahtani was admitted by the International Olympic Committee as a wild card and became the second Saudi Arabian female judo athlete to participate in the Olympics since the 2012 London Olympics,” Asahi’s article stated.

Despite losing, the Japanese newspaper reported that the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee highlighted Al-Qahtani’s upcoming bout on Twitter 12 hours before the match, confirming her participation against her Israeli opponent.

“On that day, whether Al-Qahtani will stand on the tatami mat attracted attention in her home country and other Middle Eastern countries.”

Japanese media praised the decision by Saudi Arabian Judoka Tahani Al-Qahtani to play against Israeli Raz Hershko at the Tokyo Olympics Games on Friday. (Twitter: @saudiolympic)

The report added that the International Judo Federation commented in a post-match release, “This game shows that sports can transcend political and external influences.”

Meanwhile, Kyodo News Agency also reported on the Judo Olympic match, stating “Saudi woman fights with Israel: Impress Social Change.”

“Arab countries often abstain from playing against Israeli athletes…, but Al-Qahtani was proud to be a role model for women in her home country. Although she lost by one stroke in the back of her shoulders, she impressed the change in Saudi society.”

The Japanese news agency quoted Hershko saying, “The game has nothing to do with politics. It was a good match.”

Al-Qahtani’s inclusion and stance was also praised by the International Judo Federation. In a post-match release, it stated: “This match shows that sports can transcend political and external influences.”


Disappointing Olympic campaign reignites debate that more Saudi footballers should play abroad

Disappointing Olympic campaign reignites debate that more Saudi footballers should play abroad
Updated 31 July 2021

Disappointing Olympic campaign reignites debate that more Saudi footballers should play abroad

Disappointing Olympic campaign reignites debate that more Saudi footballers should play abroad
  • The Young Falcons performed well in all three matches at Tokyo 2020 but failed to win a single point
  • The Kingdom could follow Japanese and Korean model of producing international-class players

Saudi Arabia Olympic football coach Saad Al-Shehri must have had plenty of time to think about what happened in Japan on the plane back from Tokyo to Riyadh. While there were positives, the fact remains that the Young Falcons lost all three games.

Many will have opinions about what happened but there is one major factor that stands out. Saudi Arabia were the only team of the 16 in Japan with a squad completely made up of home-based players. This is a debate that has been had before but, in truth, there is not much of a debate. Everyone knows that this is something that needs to be addressed, and it was mentioned again by Al-Nassr president Musalli Al-Muammar.

“It was a good performance from the Greens in the Olympics but not good in terms of results,” Al-Muammar wrote on social media. “Saad Al-Shehri selected talented players, none of them play in Europe, and some of them are reserves in the local league. If we want positive results for the national teams, we should think about transferring the Saudi players to a different stage.”

Two Asian teams made the last eight without much fuss. Takefusa Kubo was the star for Japan and Lee Kang-in has been the standout for South Korea. Lee, who was named the MVP of the 2019 U-20 World Cup, joined Valencia aged 10. Kubo was at Barcelona’s youth academy at the same age. The pair have been two of the best performers at the entire tournament so far and as well as showing their talents on the pitch, they have also revealed one reason why South Korea and Japan have been at the top of the Asian football tree for years.

“Lee has an outstanding football brain and playing at a high level in Europe has helped,” said South Korea coach Kim Hak-beom. “He has a fantastic attitude and always wants to learn and improve no matter what the situation.”

Put simply, players from these East Asian nations are happy to go to Europe at a very early age. There is a solid youth development structure in both countries but the best are getting a European education at some of the continent’s top clubs. Son Heung-min is currently the biggest name in Asian football, and probably the biggest ever. It should not be forgotten however that the English Premier League star dropped out of high school at 16 and joined Hamburg’s youth academy.

Most Koreans and Japanese players who go to Europe — and Japan recently announced a World Cup qualification squad that was entirely European-based — transfer the more conventional way. They impress in the domestic leagues or at international tournaments and get the call.

Increasingly, the national team members of Korea and Japan have experience in high-profile international leagues. This helps in many ways, but it does bring more street smarts. While the Korean and Japanese Leagues, as well as the Saudi Premier League, are technically at a high level, the big leagues of Europe are more testing mentally, physically, professionally and psychologically — the environment is much more pressurised. This helps to produce players who are more street smart and possess stronger in-game management.

The fact that Saudi Arabia came back from a goal down in the second half in all three games yet still lost suggests that there is a certain naivety. The defeat against Germany was especially painful. Coming back twice to bring the game to 2-2 was commendable and when the Germans were reduced to 10 men midway through the second half, Saudi Arabia should have been able to manage the situation to take the first Olympic point in their history. Really, it should have been all three.

Yet the team switched off almost immediately and allowed a number of German attacks, one of which resulted in a goal and then defeat. A smarter approach from both coach and players was needed and had there been more international experience in the squad, it would have been easier.

International experience is not the be-all and end-all, but it is a major factor in a country’s development. The more Japanese and Koreans that go West, the more agents become involved in those countries, the better the reputation of the players becomes and the more clubs become interested. Not only that, but more players at home become inspired to follow them, and even the ones who fail to settle in Europe return as better players having faced huge challenges both on and off the pitch.

For Saudi Arabia, it only takes one or two to go to a decent European league and do reasonably well for things to change. Then agents and clubs will start to see the country as a place to look for talent. This will allow more players to go and the whole process gathers momentum. If things go well, the Kingdom could expect to reach the sweet spot that Japan looks to be in right now: Sending lots of players to play at a high level in Europe, which gives more opportunities for young talents in the domestic league, talent that is good enough to head to Europe a few years later.

That is a long way in the future, but the first steps need to be made as soon as possible. The Olympics confirmed what we already knew: There has to be a Saudi Arabian pioneer in Europe and the sooner they lead the way, the better.


Arsenal swoop for ‘£50 million’ Brighton defender White

Arsenal swoop for ‘£50 million’ Brighton defender White
Updated 30 July 2021

Arsenal swoop for ‘£50 million’ Brighton defender White

Arsenal swoop for ‘£50 million’ Brighton defender White
  • Ben White, 23, a member of England's Euro 2020 squad, has now completed a medical
  • "Ben was a top target for us and it's great that we've completed his signing," said Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta

LONDON: Arsenal have signed England defender Ben White from Premier League rivals Brighton, the London club announced on Friday.
The 23-year-old, a member of England’s Euro 2020 squad, has now completed a medical.
Although no fee, nor the exact length of a “long-term” deal has been disclosed, British media reports suggest White has moved to the capital for a fee of £50 million ($70 million).
“Ben was a top target for us and it’s great that we’ve completed his signing,” Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta told the club’s website.
“Ben has been educated with two very good clubs, Brighton and Leeds, in recent seasons. He has benefitted well from two very good coaching set-ups and has shown with both Brighton and on loan with Leeds what a strong talent he is.”
White played 36 games for Brighton last season.
“We are incredibly proud of him and what he has achieved and much credit must go to our academy, who have played such an important role in developing Ben from a younger age,” said Brighton manager Graham Potter.