Saudi sprinter Yasmine Al-Dabbagh dashing into the Kingdom’s history books with Tokyo 2020 debut

Saudi sprinter Yasmine Al-Dabbagh dashing into the Kingdom’s history books with Tokyo 2020 debut
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Yasmine Al-Dabbagh had the honor of carrying Saudi Arabia’s flag at the opening ceremony of Tokyo 2020 on Friday night. (Supplied)
Saudi sprinter Yasmine Al-Dabbagh dashing into the Kingdom’s history books with Tokyo 2020 debut
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Yasmine Al-Dabbagh had the honor of carrying Saudi Arabia’s flag at the opening ceremony of Tokyo 2020 on Friday night. (Supplied)
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Updated 26 July 2021

Saudi sprinter Yasmine Al-Dabbagh dashing into the Kingdom’s history books with Tokyo 2020 debut

Saudi sprinter Yasmine Al-Dabbagh dashing into the Kingdom’s history books with Tokyo 2020 debut
  • The 23-year-old from Jeddah will take part in the 100m race on Friday
  • “I am working hard on a daily basis to represent Saudi Arabia in the best way possible,” Al-Dabbagh said

TOKYO: Only a few weeks ago, Yasmine Al-Dabbagh was an unknown Saudi sprinter with big dreams.
On Friday night, the whole world got to see her face as she, alongside Saudi rower Husein Alireza, had the honor of carrying Saudi Arabia’s flag at the opening ceremony of Tokyo 2020.
For the 23-year-old, as for the rest of 33-strong Saudi Olympic delegation, there is no greater honor than representing her country.
“It means the world to me, especially being part of a diverse and expansive team representing so many different activities,” Al-Dabbagh told Arab News. “Everything from judo, to table tennis, rowing, karate, archery, weightlifting, swimming, shooting and football. The sports sector in Saudi Arabia has witnessed unprecedented growth and investment, thanks to Crown Prince (Mohammed bin Salman’s) Vision 2030. 
“As Saudi athletes, we are all proud of the important role sports plays in the country’s transformation. We have a great sporting ecosystem, that allows us to perform at the highest level and I can’t wait to go out on the track, to repay that faith by performing to the best of my ability.”


Al-Dabbagh will make her 100m Olympic debut at the Tokyo Olympic Stadium on Friday, July 30, but had things worked out differently earlier in her life, she could now have been taking part in a different sport.
“Ever since I can remember, sports has always been my passion,” Al-Dabbagh said. “When I was a student at Jeddah Knowledge School, I loved everything from basketball, swimming, volleyball and gymnastics. 
“Track and field held an especially exceptional place in my heart. It was running and the sound of my footsteps on the track that gave me a very specific feeling, and that feeling kept me coming back for more. It was a sense of being empowered, strong and self-confident.
“What also hooked me was that the challenge was on me,” she said. “As an individual sport, I love that you get out what you put in. It’s all on me. There is nowhere to hide. If I train well and put in the effort, I get the corresponding reward and absolutely love that feeling.”
Al-Dabbagh recalls that when she first started training, access to running facilities was a bit of a challenge, particularly for female athletes. This, she is proud to point out, is no longer the case.
“We are seeing massive investment across all sports in Saudi Arabia including women’s sports. The country is on the move with more people playing sports than ever before and personally I am extremely grateful (for) the support shown to me by so many, including Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, the Ministry of Sport, the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee and the Athletics Federation.”
At a time when female participation was still several years away from becoming widespread, and culturally more acceptable, across the Kingdom, she was lucky to have a family that believed in her unquestioningly.
“My family were and still are my biggest supporters and have always pushed me to pursue my dreams,” Al-Dabbagh said. “Whenever I felt doubtful or fearful, they were the ones who helped me overcome that. They always made sure that I knew that my dream of becoming an Olympian could one day be realized. I am so proud and humbled also, that the dream is now coming true.”
When vindication of her career path came, it could not have been from a more iconic source.
“My motto in life has always been to never give up,” she said. “As much of a cliché as that may sound, it genuinely helped me overcome many obstacles and fears to get to where I am today. I was told by one of my biggest idols, who is now my coach, Linford Christie, that I have the ability to make it to the Olympics. Ever since then, I have been working really hard to get to where I am today but this is only the start. As the saying goes, a journey of one thousand miles begins with one step. I consider this as a first step on a long journey to come, inshallah.”
Al-Dabbagh is particularly inspired by the American runner Allyson Felix, who has won a staggering 26 gold, eight silver and four bronze medals throughout her career. Six of those golds and three of the silvers were claimed in the Olympic Games, making her the first female runner in history to have that many gold medals for track and field. Fenix, who will also be at Tokyo 2020, will have a chance of breaking the world record of nine athletics gold medals held by her legendary compatriot, the sprinter Carl Lewis.
“The reason I admire Allyson so much is that in addition to her incredible success in sports, she is also a wife, mother, and founder of a brand that specializes in creating products for women by women,” said Al-Dabbagh. “The way she manages to balance different aspects of her life is an inspiration to myself and to many women all over the world.
“I would be amiss not to recognize our very own athletes at home,” she added. “In the runners department, Sarah Attar and Cariman Abu Al-Jadail, the equestrian Dilma Malhas and the swimmer Mariam Binladen.”
Al-Dabbagh only got the call to the Olympics three weeks before the start of Tokyo 2020.
“Earning a place at the Olympics means everything to me, and to do it through a ‘universality place’, breaking the national female record for the 100m race … I could not have asked for more,” she said. “It is a culmination of many hours of difficult training, spanning across Saudi Arabia, the US and the UK. I even remember my 12th birthday being Olympics-themed … that is how much I wanted to be an Olympian, and I am truly ecstatic that this moment has finally arrived.”
When she steps onto the track at the Olympic Stadium in the early hours of Friday, she will be up against some of the best runners in the world, but after the disruptions of the last year, it is an experience she is relishing.
“I know I’m very inexperienced compared to my running competitors, but I see this as a positive,” he said. “I inevitably will gain so many lessons from the opportunity to be in Tokyo, on which I can hopefully build my future as an athlete. Just when I had hoped to dedicate 100 percent to training and competing, COVID struck so I’ve missed a lot of track time and many chances to race. But with this, I can only look forward to the Olympics and future events.
“Our world has gone through a rough 18 months, and I can’t wait to see sports bring together people from all walks of life, from all over the globe. I want to make sure I savor that moment and that it will propel my sporting career forward.”
Al-Dabbagh is not setting any specific goals at this stage in her career, but the landmarks keep coming just the same.
“My target is to always perform to the best of my ability,” she said. “I am working hard on a daily basis to represent Saudi Arabia in the best way possible. I am hoping to raise the bar that previous Saudi Olympians have set and to inspire even more young Saudis to pursue their dreams. I am already the holder of the national (100m) record and I’d like to improve upon that, and come back a better athlete. At this stage in my career and with my experience, I really see the games as a building block for the future, both for me personally, but importantly for the future of sports in the Kingdom.” 


FIFA intensifies push to stage men’s World Cup every 2 years

FIFA intensifies push to stage men’s World Cup every 2 years
Updated 16 September 2021

FIFA intensifies push to stage men’s World Cup every 2 years

FIFA intensifies push to stage men’s World Cup every 2 years
  • In its latest survey, FIFA players all agreed it was a good idea to double the number of men’s World Cups in each four-year period
  • Staging more tournaments would increase opportunities and enthusiasm in most of the 211 member countries, says FIFA chief

GENEVA: FIFA intensified its push for hosting the men’s World Cup every two years on Thursday by garnering support from soccer fans around the world to help combat resistance from Europe and South America.
The latest public relations tactic came in the form of an online survey commissioned by FIFA. The Associated Press does not routinely report the claims of opinion polls conducted over the Internet.
FIFA claimed its findings from more than 15,000 respondents aged at least 18 identified in 23 countries showed “considerable differences between the so-called traditional markets and the developing football markets” and younger fans more enthusiastic than older ones.
A follow-up survey involving 100,000 people in more than 100 countries is now being done, FIFA said.
European soccer body UEFA and South American counterpart CONMEBOL oppose FIFA’s plan and have threatened to boycott additional World Cups. Europe and South America combine for 65 of the 211 FIFA members — fewer than the one-third total likely needed to block any proposal.
The governing bodies of the six continental soccer federations all stage their own championships, with Europe hosting its tournament every four years halfway between the World Cups. Adding an extra World Cup in every four-year cycle would likely cut into the European event’s revenue stream.
The women already have two major world tournaments in every four-year cycle because the top teams and best players compete at the Olympics as well as the Women’s World Cup.
FIFA’s latest survey follows one week after it hosted about 80 former international players, including several World Cup winners, for a two-day meeting in Qatar — the 2022 World Cup host country.
The players reported they all agreed it was a good idea to double the number of men’s World Cups in each four-year period.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino believes staging more tournaments would increase opportunities and enthusiasm in most of the 211 member countries, many of which never qualify to play at the World Cup.
Expanding the World Cup from 32 teams to 48 starting at the 2026 tournament in North America was one of the biggest early decisions of Infantino’s presidency, which began in 2016. FIFA also wants to distribute extra World Cup revenue to improve talent development and help national teams globally close the gap on Europe.
European teams have won the past four World Cups and filled 13 of the 16 semifinal slots. The other three semifinalists from 2006-18 were from South America.
The UEFA-backed Football Supporters Europe group also opposed the biennial World Cup plan, claiming it would distort the balance between domestic and international soccer, and club and national teams.
Global players’ union FIFPRO has also warned of burnout in the increasingly congested soccer schedule.


PSG coach Pochettino must work on weaknesses as stars flop

PSG coach Pochettino must work on weaknesses as stars flop
Updated 16 September 2021

PSG coach Pochettino must work on weaknesses as stars flop

PSG coach Pochettino must work on weaknesses as stars flop
  • “Fantomatique” — or "Ghost-like — was the headline in French sports daily L’Equipe on Thursday
  • PSG's performance highlighted that the team still has glaring shortcomings despite being able to field three of the world's best forwards

PARIS: Paris Saint-Germain was able to start its superstar attacking trio of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe for the first time on Wednesday in the Champions League.
Instead of fireworks, though, they only produced a big thud as PSG drew 1-1 draw against modest Belgian side Club Brugge.
“Fantomatique” — or “Ghost-like — was the headline in French sports daily L’Equipe on Thursday.
While 2020 champion Bayern Munich and last season’s runner-up Manchester City won and scored freely, PSG’s performance highlighted that the team still has glaring shortcomings despite being able to field three of the world’s best forward.
The fact that Keylor Navas was the busier goalkeeper on the night — and PSG’s best player — should be of concern to coach Mauricio Pochettino ahead of playing much tougher teams in the competition.
“We’ve got a magnificent squad, but we need to find balance,” Pochettino said.
But given PSG’s remarkable summer recruitment drive, Pochettino knows he has little room for error in a season where the Qatari-backed club has been touted by many observers as the favorite to win the Champions League.
Behind the veneer of Messi’s arrival, the reality is that the midfield and defense still look very vulnerable, and allowed a modest side like Brugge to muster 16 shots at goal.
That is alarming considering that City is PSG’s next opponent in the group stage. Pep Guardiola’s side visits Parc des Princes on Sept. 28, giving Pochettino little time to make his team more solid.
PSG has a home game against Lyon in the French league on Sunday followed by a midweek trip to Metz before hosting Montpellier.
Pochettino also has a thorny goalkeeping dilemma to resolve — whether to stick with Navas or start Italy’s European Championship star Gianluigi Donnarumma.
Last season, Navas rescued PSG with outstanding performances against Barcelona and Bayern in the knockout stages before PSG’s limitations were exposed by City in the semifinals.
PSG would likely have lost against Brugge without Navas who, through no fault of his own, now finds himself fighting for the No. 1 jersey. Pochettino sounded evasive when asked after the Brugge game if Donnarumma would play against Lyon.
“Anything’s possible,” Pochettino said. “Decisions will be made game after game with regards to the performances.”
But rotation could also work against Pochettino, for he needs a settled goalie to take command of a brittle defense that was too easily exposed by Brugge.
Even the signing of Netherlands midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum and Italian league champion Achraf Hakimi at right back did little to stop the waves of Brugge attacks.
Wijnaldum lost a surprising number of tackles and was not helped by Leandro Paredes, who failed to control a simple pass early on as it rolled under his foot and led to a yellow card as he then fouled a Brugge player breaking through.
Wijnaldum and Paredes were both replaced by Pochettino, whose midfield clearly struggles when Marco Verratti is absent. The Italy star’s ball retention and distribution is superior and takes pressure off his teammates.
With Messi and Neymar up front, PSG also has a forward line that isn’t known for tracking back to defend, which can lead to the midfield getting overrun and the defense being exposed as a result.
Central defenders Marquinhos and Presnel Kimpembe looked exhausted at the end on Wednesday, as they often did last season when PSG lost eight games and the league title to Lille.
Messi’s positioning on the right of the three-man attack offers little protection to the midfield or to Hakimi, who by nature is a very attacking player and leaves space behind him where the opposition is free to counter.


Boateng appeals assault verdict, 1.8 million euros fine

Boateng appeals assault verdict, 1.8 million euros fine
Updated 16 September 2021

Boateng appeals assault verdict, 1.8 million euros fine

Boateng appeals assault verdict, 1.8 million euros fine
  • A Munich regional court’s spokesperson said Boateng's lawyer and state prosecutor have contested the verdict
  • Boateng looked last week visibly shocked after being found guilty of assaulting and insulting his former

BERLIN: Germany’s 2014 World Cup winner Jerome Boateng has filed an appeal against his conviction for assault and 1.8 million euros ($2 million) fine, a court official in Munich confirmed Thursday.
A spokesperson for Munich regional court told AFP subsidiary SID that both Boateng’s lawyer and the state prosecutor have contested the verdict.
A week ago, Boateng looked visibly shocked after being found guilty of assaulting and insulting his former partner, the mother of his twin daughters, during a Caribbean holiday in 2018.
The prosecutor had asked the court to give Boateng a suspended 18-month prison sentence and a fine of 1.5 million euros, but the former Bayern Munich defender avoided a custodial sentence when the judge gave his verdict last Thursday.
The 33-year-old Boateng, who left Bayern Munich to sign for French club Lyon at the start of the month and made his debut off the bench last Sunday, denied the allegations.


Saudi Super Cup between Al-Hilal, Al-Faisaly to be played at start of 2022

Saudi Super Cup between Al-Hilal, Al-Faisaly to be played at start of 2022
Updated 16 September 2021

Saudi Super Cup between Al-Hilal, Al-Faisaly to be played at start of 2022

Saudi Super Cup between Al-Hilal, Al-Faisaly to be played at start of 2022
  • 5th time Al-Hilal have qualified for annual fixture between reigning champions of Kingdom’s league, cup competitions
  • The game, to be played at King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh, will be the eight edition of the showpiece match

RIYADH: The Saudi Arabian Football Federation has announced that the 2021-22 Saudi Super Cup will take place on Jan. 6 between league champions Al-Hilal and King’s Cup holders Al-Faisaly.

The game, to be played at King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh, will be the eight edition of the showpiece match.

Al-Hilal have previously qualified for the Super Cup five times, winning the trophy twice, while the meeting against Al-Ittihad in 2017 was cancelled.

Meanwhile, it will be Al-Faisaly’s first appearance in the Super Cup after having beaten Al-Taawuon in last season’s King’s Cup.

The announcement means Al-Hilal and Al-Faisaly will play each other twice within one week; first in the 15th round of the Saudi Pro League Championship on Thursday, Dec. 30 and then in the Super Cup the following Thursday.


ROKiT Venturi Racing announces Formula E Season 8 driver line-up

FIA Formula E 2021 World Championship runner-up, Edoardo Mortara, will be joined by Brazilian racing driver Lucas Di Grassi at ROKiT. (Supplied)
FIA Formula E 2021 World Championship runner-up, Edoardo Mortara, will be joined by Brazilian racing driver Lucas Di Grassi at ROKiT. (Supplied)
Updated 16 September 2021

ROKiT Venturi Racing announces Formula E Season 8 driver line-up

FIA Formula E 2021 World Championship runner-up, Edoardo Mortara, will be joined by Brazilian racing driver Lucas Di Grassi at ROKiT. (Supplied)
  • Fresh from their most successful season to date, ROKiT Venturi Racing has confirmed its two drivers for 2022

LONDON: ROKiT Venturi Racing is setting its sights on Formula E World Championship titles after it announced it was uniting two of the sport’s most competitive drivers.

Fresh from their most successful season to date, ROKiT Venturi Racing confirmed this week that FIA Formula E 2021 World Championship runner-up, Edoardo Mortara, will be joined by Brazilian racing driver Lucas Di Grassi to challenge Season 8 of the all-electric championship.

“Last season we demonstrated that we have a strong package, there were many highlights throughout the season starting with a podium and finishing with a win,” Susie Wolff, ROKiT Venturi Racing Team Principal, said.

“Edo showcased to everyone what we have known all along - that he’s a World Championship contender - moving forward to Season 8, Edo is joined by Lucas - a proven Formula E Championship winner who also brings a wealth of experience.

“They will push each other and drive us forward as a team. To have both cars scoring points in every race is essential for us for the Team’s Championship and with our new driver line-up, there’s a lot to feel optimistic about heading into Season 8,” she added.

With 92 points and four podium appearances under his belt in Season 7, Swiss-Italian Mortara enjoyed his most successful Formula E season to date.

Season 8 represents his fourth year with the Monegasque team and is a clear indicator of ROKiT Venturi’s faith in his abilities to contend the World Championship moving forward.

“I’m really happy to be continuing with the team and it’s a pleasure to welcome Lucas to the family,” Mortara said. “We had a very strong season this year, my best so far in Formula E which was also testimony to the hard work of the team around me.

“We’re on good trajectory and we want to maintain that moving forward, competing against Lucas in the past he has always been extremely competitive and he’s very good when it comes to energy management - one of the most critical points to being successful in Formula E.

“The progress we made in Season 7 was great but there is still plenty to do and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can achieve together,” he added.

Meanwhile, ROKiT’s latest signing, Di Grassi, also joins with unquestionable credentials.

The Monaco-based former Formula E World Champion won the first-ever Formula E race in Beijing, 2014 and is the most successful driver in the history of the championship.

“Anyone who knows me know how competitive I am - driving for a team that I know can fight at the front and really challenge for the championship is essential for me, he said. “ROKiT Venturi Racing was simply the best choice and I’m really happy to be part of the team, I’ve followed Venturi since Season 1 and I know that they have a strong history in Monaco.

“The team performed very, very well last season, you can see that the team has progressed a lot in recent years, the momentum is really there and they have shown clear improvements in every area.

“Edo had a fantastic season, really strong, he was fighting for the title until the very end and there were many times over the season that I was racing both Venturi cars and I could see how competitive they were,” he added.

Di Grassi has made no secret of his desire to continue to challenge the title with the right team.

“It’s not just about the team though, I’m really happy to drive alongside Edo, we’ve known each other for a very long time, we part of the Audi program together, I respect him as a driver, as a human - he’s a very talented driver and a great character, I think we’re going to work really well together.”