‘It feels like a sporting revolution’: Saudi Karate Federation president hails KSA progress

Dr Musharraf Al-Shehri, President of the Saudi Karate Federation with Olympic silver medalist Tarek Hamdi. (Supplied)
Dr Musharraf Al-Shehri, President of the Saudi Karate Federation with Olympic silver medalist Tarek Hamdi. (Supplied)
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Updated 20 September 2021

‘It feels like a sporting revolution’: Saudi Karate Federation president hails KSA progress

Dr Musharraf Al-Shehri, President of the Saudi Karate Federation with Olympic silver medalist Tarek Hamdi. (Supplied)
  • Dr. Musharraf Al-Shehri says Tarek Hamdi’s Tokyo success was ‘pivotal moment’ for sport

 

JEDDAH: Tarek Hamdi’s heroic silver medal at Tokyo 2020 and the third place finish by the Saudi women’s karate team in the kata competition of the International Karate1 Premier League tournament held in Cairo recently have ushered in a new era of achievement and progress in the sport, the president of the Saudi Karate Federation has said.

Dr. Musharraf Al-Shehri told Arab News that the high-profile performances of Hamdi at the Olympics in particular “brought attention” to karate in the Kingdom and will help spur further development of the sport.

“The medal sent out a message,” Al-Shehri said. “And the message is ‘yes we can — we can compete on the biggest stage.’”

Hamdi and the successful women’s team will prove a source of inspiration for aspiring athletes to take interest in karate and other sports, he added.

“We are very happy to see Saudi Arabia gaining such a reputation in karate,” said Al-Shehri. “This confirms that we are on the right path in the the sport as per the vision engineered to develop it, enabling the Kingdom’s champions to produce honorable results.”

Al-Shehri started his career as a karateka and won the Saudi Championship seven times. He has also represented the Kingdom’s national team in many regional and international tournaments as a player, referee, and was chairman of the West Asian Karate Referees Committee, member of the Asian and Arab Referees Committee, advisor to the Athletic Federation of Saudi Universities.

“Today is one of the most important moments in Saudi karate history,” he said. It is a “game-changing moment” that will open sport up to more people than ever before, “creating new heroes and fueling future success,” he added.

“It feels like a sporting revolution and the start of something new. We want the people of Saudi Arabia to feel this change, share it, celebrate it, connect to our athletes and support them on their inspirational journeys.”

However, Al-Shehri said that the transformation is a result of the hard work of all previous federations, and not just the current one.

“We are continuing what the previous administrations started, but for us as a new management, we hope to bring the level of karate sports to the highest level,” he added.

“What Tarek achieved left a true imprint of Saudi karate and put the name of the Kingdom on the highest platforms in the world.”

He added that the rise in standards is down to the policies of the Saudi Karate Federation and its successful plans to develop the sport, as well as the full support of the authorities responsible for Saudi sports. The federation is now hoping to compete for more medals at the 2021 World Karate Championships to be held in Dubai from Nov. 16-21.

Al-Shehri thanked everyone who has worked with him during his tenure as president, including administrators, players, coaches, referees, members and colleagues of former members of the board.

He also praised the unequivocal support of Saudi Minister of Sports Prince Abdulaziz Al-Faisal, and hailed the government’s decision to include the martial art in school sporting curricula.

“I see that the future of karate is great in the Kingdom, especially in light of the great support of the generous leadership of all sports,” he added.

Speaking to Arab News at the Second Kingdom Open Championship for girls aged under 15 in Jeddah, Al-Shehri lauded the performance of the Saudi women’s team in Cairo.

“Though it was the first participation for the women’s team at the international level, the team managed to achieve a bronze medal in Cairo,” he said. “This is very promising for the future of the Saudi female team.”

With the rising popularity of karate as a sport, Al-Shehri expects participation to surpass 100,000 people at all levels as more local competitions are established.

“In fact, I think that the number is small compared to the size of the Kingdom, and I hope that the game will spread more and we will see more heroes like Tarek Hamdi, and that the competition will be high,” he said.


Route for 2022 Dakar Rally revealed across the Saudi Arabian desert

Route for 2022 Dakar Rally revealed across the Saudi Arabian desert
Updated 28 November 2021

Route for 2022 Dakar Rally revealed across the Saudi Arabian desert

Route for 2022 Dakar Rally revealed across the Saudi Arabian desert
  • Third edition of race to take place in Kingdom will be contested by bikes and quads, cars and trucks over 12 stages from Jan. 1-14

The route for the 2022 Dakar Rally taking place across the Saudi Arabian desert was announced in a virtual presentation on Sunday afternoon, revealing a challenging terrain that will race over 12 stages from Jan. 1-14.

“For the third year running, it gives me great pleasure to welcome you to the nation of motorsports and the home of the Dakar Rally, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” said Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, the minister of sport and president of the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee.

The endurance test will be the third consecutive Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia and the 44th edition of the rally itself, with 1,065 participants aboard 578 vehicles racing across 8,375 km of treacherous routes in the various categories.

“The top motorsports competitions have found a new home in the Kingdom,” Prince Abdulaziz added. “From the Dakar Rally, the toughest rally in the world, to the World Rally Championship, the FIA Formula E, Extreme E and of course the upcoming FIA Formula 1 World Championship.”

The landscape and backdrop of the course are similar to the last edition, and it begins and ends after 12 stages in the port city of Jeddah.

From canyons and cliffs in the NEOM region to stretches of dunes surrounding Riyadh, the race also takes in the Red Sea coastline and the mysterious Empty Quarter.

Hybrid vehicles make their debut with top contenders Stephane Peterhansel, a 14-time winner, and Carlos Sainz, winner in 2010, 2018 and 2020, behind the wheel in the new category.

In the motorbike race, previous champions Toby Price, Sam Sunderland, Matthias Walkner, Ricky Brabec and Kevin Benavides will all also be at the start line.

Motorbike and quad racers will be kitted out with airbag vests, which can minimize the consequences of high-speed impact.

Stage 1A will take place on Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022, and will run from the starting point of Jeddah to Hail, covering a total of 636 km. The following day will see a 546 km loop that starts and ends in Hail for Stage 1B.

On Monday, Jan. 3, Stage 2 of the rally will take place between Hail and Al-Artawiya over 585 km. Stage 3 takes place the following day on a 554 km-trail from Al-Artawiyah to Al-Qaysumah.

Stage 4 will see the race go from Al-Qaysumah to Riyadh over 707 km on Wednesday, Jan. 5. Thursday and Friday, meanwhile, will see loop races — Stages 5 and 6 — that end in the capital.

After a day’s rest on Saturday, the action returns on Sunday, Jan. 7, with the 700 km Stage 7 from Riyadh to Al-Dawadimi.

Stage 8 sees a further 828 km, the longest of the 2022 Dakar Rally, that takes the race to Wadi Al-Dawasir. On Stage 9 the following day, the competitors will do a loop around Wadi Al-Dawasir over 490 km.

On Wednesday, Jan. 12, Stage 10 will see a 757 km drive from Wadi Al-Dawasir to Bisha. In Bisha, a loop of 500 km on Thursday will cover Stage 11.

Finally, on Friday, Jan. 14, Stage 12 from Bisha back to Jeddah completes the 2022 Dakar Rally.


Greg Norman: Saudi Arabia can become a golfing powerhouse via my Asian Tour revamp

Greg Norman: Saudi Arabia can become a golfing powerhouse via my Asian Tour revamp
Updated 28 November 2021

Greg Norman: Saudi Arabia can become a golfing powerhouse via my Asian Tour revamp

Greg Norman: Saudi Arabia can become a golfing powerhouse via my Asian Tour revamp
  • Australian golf legend is spearheading Saudi-backed 10-year plan for 10 annual events from 2022
  • Norman says $200m series could unearth new Tiger Woods in the Kingdom

LONDON: When “the Great White Shark” —  aka Greg Norman —  sinks his teeth into something, success is guaranteed on and off the golf course.

The 66-year-old Australian won 91 professional tournaments, including two Open championships, during a distinguished career that saw him top the world rankings for 331 consecutive weeks.

The pioneering Norman has also become one of the world’s most successful athlete-turned-entrepreneurs, with his global corporation Great White Shark Enterprises boasting more than a dozen companies.

As such, Norman’s bold proclamation to Arab News that Saudi Arabia can become a golfing powerhouse under his tenacious tutelage should not dismissed lightly.

Norman last month was named CEO of LIV Golf Investments, a newly formed, Saudi-backed company that will bring a series of 10 new events to the Asian Tour in 2022. 

He is relishing the opportunity to channel “44 years of observation, knowledge and experience” into rousing golf’s “sleeping giant,” Asia, as part of a ground-breaking 10-year deal that will involve tournaments being staged across Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

“I first went (to Asia) in 1977 and I’ve been going back every year, except during the pandemic years, as a player, golf course designer or through my business acumen,” Norman said via a Zoom call.

“I’ve seen what golf has done there. I was the first guy to build an 18-hole grass course in Jordan. I was the first guy to do an exhibition match in mainland China. I was one of the first guys to play in the UAE as a professional, so I’ve seen the economic growth, as well as the growth of the game of golf, when it goes into new markets.”

Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, one of the world’s largest sovereign wealth funds with a diverse international investment portfolio, is the majority shareholder in Norman’s new company.

Saudi PIF has committed more than $200 million, one of the single biggest investments in the history of professional golf, to support playing opportunities and prize funds.

The series will add to the Asian Tour’s backbone of established events to comprise a 25-event season, expected to represent a record-breaking combined prize fund in 2022.

The announcement follows hard on the heels of the striking of a new 10-year partnership between the Asian Tour and Golf Saudi, the organizers of the Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers, which will see the event become the flagship tournament on the Asian Tour, featuring an increased prize fund of $5 million.

Norman is hugely impressed with Golf Saudi’s aggressive drive to promote golf as part of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 masterplan, which includes multiple golf courses being built in the country.

“Golf Saudi are passionate about the game of golf. If you have that much passion, vision and desire like Vision 2030, then you’re going to accelerate it. I love to see that,” he said.

“I don’t think I’ve seen an investment in the future of a country like what I’ve seen in Saudi Arabia.”

He added: “I’ve seen it in pockets around the world — Vietnam has done a great job in investing in its coastline and building high-end resorts and golf course developments there — but nothing to the magnitude of what Saudi Arabia has done. It’s a knock-on effect, a domino effect, and golf is paving the way for (prosperity). It’s an eye-opener to see how the country is investing into their people and opportunities from a health and wellness perspective, from a sporting perspective, from an education perspective,” he said.

“I would say the citizens of Saudi Arabia should be extremely excited about their future.”

Norman said: “Do I think Saudi Arabia could become a golfing powerhouse? Yes, I do.”

“If you’re going to invest dollars into building new facilities, it will allow people access to the game of golf,” he said. “Then you bolt on a lot of other things like academies and education and the hospitality side of things, so it’s actually a beautiful process to watch.” 

He added: “It’s not just one individual who benefits from it, it’s everybody.”

Norman said the schedule for the new series will be announced shortly, with all full-field events contributing toward the Order of Merit ranking.

He is confident of assembling a stellar line-up of world-renowned golfers, too, which is crucial to his overriding aim of inspiring the next generation.

World No.2 Dustin Johnson, who won the Saudi International in 2019 and 2020, is among those rumored to be interested, although Norman would not discuss potential participants.

“All I can tell you is every day I get a message, whether it’s through my WhatsApp, or through Signal or my IG account, from a player asking: ‘How can I get involved? We love it. Thank you, thank you, thank you’.”

He said: “Obviously creating the ability to bring professional golfers stimulates the interest among the younger generation, who would say: ‘Oh, wow, I want to win that golf tournament that John Smith just won.’ The interest level gets accelerated, the fan level gets accelerated, and the fanbase gets bigger, broader and stronger. The game of golf gets better because of that.

“When the fanbase gets elevated, then (people with) more corporate dollars want to come in because the fans are there. There’s this domino effect that happens from an economic standpoint and also a growth standpoint.”

He added: “Could Saudi Arabia produce the next Tiger Woods? The answer is ‘yes.’ But it’s a long-term ‘yes’ and a generational ‘yes.’,” he said.

“In the mid-1980s, there was a gentleman called Sven Tumba from Sweden, who was an ice hockey player who loved golf. He went on this mission to create an opportunity to grow grassroots golf in Sweden. Look where Sweden is today,. They’ve got a major championship winner (2016 Open champion Henrik Stenson).”

Norman is eager to seize every opportunity to expand the game of golf as part of his landmark initiative.

This includes potentially inviting women to participate, as they did at this month’s Aramco Saudi Ladies International for the second year. Building new golf courses across Asia would also be “a logical next step,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Asian Tour CEO and commissioner, Cho Minn Thant, recently suggested that television broadcasting innovations would be explored, including “putting a 3D camera on some of the players if they allow it, or new graphics.”

Norman agreed, adding: “I’m getting flooded with the best of the best from the technology side of life, from technology corporations, from 5G corporations. Golf is under a linear broadcaster, so there are so many ways to show the sport in so many different aspects with the technology that’s out there today and not being used.”

While Norman is fiercely determined to make the Asian Tour global golf’s premier series, he insists he does not want to antagonize the long-established PGA and European Tours.

“I’m a big believer that we can play in the same sandbox. Why can’t there be others who are creating a separate but similar opportunity for players as independent contractors to go and increase their market value?” he said.

“Competition is the best thing for everyone and everything on this planet,” Norman added. “You can go through everything we do in life and we need a competitor to push us to the next level.”

With a hungry Great White Shark on the prowl, Asian sports fans can expect to feast themselves on some spectacular golf in years to come.


Italy and Portugal facing up to possibility of disastrous absence from 2022 World Cup

Italy and Portugal facing up to possibility of disastrous absence from 2022 World Cup
Updated 28 November 2021

Italy and Portugal facing up to possibility of disastrous absence from 2022 World Cup

Italy and Portugal facing up to possibility of disastrous absence from 2022 World Cup
  • At least one of the last two European champions will miss out on a place at Qatar 2022 after the UEFA playoffs in March

When the draw for the UEFA playoffs for the 2022 World Cup was completed on Friday, one thing dominated the headlines: Either Italy or Portugal would not be going to Qatar.

The winners of the last two editions of the European Championship failed to top their World Cup qualifying groups, missing out to Serbia and Switzerland respectively, and now might have to face each other for the right to progress to next year’s finals. That is if they overcome their “semi-final” playoff opponents of North Macedonia (for Italy) and Turkey (for Portugal).

For Italy, the situation is borderline embarrassing.

The Azzurri, less than six months on from their success at the 2020 UEFA European Championship, find themselves having to reach Qatar the hard way, and their fans might be starting to fear the worst if recent history is anything to go by.

After all, their country also failed to secure automatic qualification for the 2018 World Cup after losing to Sweden in a two-legged playoff, one of the darkest moments in Italy’s football history.

Italy’s stumble in the qualifiers is all the stranger as Roberto Mancini had sparked a revival that culminated in winning Euro 2020 in July on the back of a long unbeaten run. All looked rosy for the Italians as they returned to World Cup action in the fall.

Italy had started very strongly in Group C but found their path getting complicated after drawing twice in their last three games.

Switzerland took full advantage of this, catching up and overtaking Italy in the standings and qualifying directly for the World Cup.

It was an epilogue that would have been hard to predict a few months ago, and the disappointment after the final whistle in Belfast, after Italy’s 0-0 draw with Northern Ireland, was evident on the faces of the entire team and coaching staff. Among the saddest was Jorginho, who in the dressing room could not hold back his tears, having missed a penalty in each of the two draws with Switzerland in the qualifiers. One successful conversion and it would be the Swiss sweating over progress to Qatar now.

For now, Mancini remains firmly in his post, with the Euro 2020 still fresh in everyone’s minds, and even his few critics have had sympathy for the spate of injuries the squad suffered ahead of the match against Northern Ireland.

The same cannot be said about Portugal.

Fernando Santos, their 67-year-old coach, remains the only one to give Portugal a title, but Euro 2016 grows distant with every passing year and the state of grace will not last forever.

In terms of results, his record is hardly a disaster, but neither has it been outstanding when you consider the talent that the football-crazy nation has at its disposal.

The fog around the coach is almost always based on poor quality football, especially given the caliber of players in the Portuguese squad at the moment.

Portugal’s best players grace some of Europe’s top clubs including Manchester United, Manchester City, Atlético Madrid, Liverpool, PSG, Roma, among others. Many of them are the best players at these clubs. They are therefore the best of the best.

And yet the football played by the national team pales in comparison to their club exploits, and the Portuguese blame their coach for that.

The Luz Stadium was supposed to witness a celebration in front of 65,000 spectators when Serbia came to Lisbon for the final group qualifier, but instead, and at the end of a historic night, the visitors punished Cristiano Ronaldo and his colleagues in the dying meets of the match to win 2-1.

My sources in Portugal tell me that Santos could be approaching the end of his reign as coach of the Portuguese national team.

The Portuguese Football Federation has backed him up to the playoffs, but many supporters and members of the press no longer believe that he can get the best out of this group of players.

This was evident when, at the press conference after the Serbia debacle, a journalist asked Santos: “How do you explain the poor football that the National Team presents, given the talent it has at its disposal?”

Santos looked at the journalist. He swallowed dry, straightened his tie, and said nothing.

Portugal, of course, still possess arguably world football’s greatest trump card.

Whatever lack of confidence there is in the coach, the nation can always count on Ronaldo to inspire his team in such moments.

It would be a shame not to see either Italy or Portugal in the World Cup, but sadly that is now inevitable.

In March we will know which one will miss out, if not, sensationally, both.


Al-Ittihad reclaim SPL lead ahead of international break for FIFA Arab Cup in Qatar

Al-Ittihad reclaim SPL lead ahead of international break for FIFA Arab Cup in Qatar
Updated 28 November 2021

Al-Ittihad reclaim SPL lead ahead of international break for FIFA Arab Cup in Qatar

Al-Ittihad reclaim SPL lead ahead of international break for FIFA Arab Cup in Qatar
  • Jeddah club leapfrog Al-Shabab to top spot with 1-0 win over Al-Tai before next round of matches on Dec. 25

Al-Ittihad have reclaimed top spot in the Saudi Professional League after defeating visitors Al-Tai 1-0 at King Abdullah Sports City Stadium in Jeddah in the 13th round of 2020-21 season.

The only goal of the match came from Brazilian striker Romarinho in the 27th minute.

After the conclusion of this round with the visit of newly crowned Asian champions Al-Hilal to Abha Club tonight, the SPL will take a break until Dec. 25 to accommodate the FIFA Arab Cup taking place in Doha from Nov. 30.

The victory is the eighth for Al-Ittihad this season, taking their SPL points tally to 26 points and and leapfrogging Al-Shabab into top spot, while Al-Tai remain at the bottom of the table with 10 points.


Palmeiras retains Copa Libertadores title after extra time

Palmeiras retains Copa Libertadores title after extra time
Updated 28 November 2021

Palmeiras retains Copa Libertadores title after extra time

Palmeiras retains Copa Libertadores title after extra time
  • Palmeiras beat fellow Brazilian rivals Flamengo 2-1
  • Sao Paulo-based club gain their third title

Palmeiras successfully defended the Copa Libertadores title after beating Flamengo 2-1 in an all-Brazilian final that went to extra time on Saturday.
The third title from the Sao Paulo-based club kicked off street parties in the metropolis, regardless of new concerns about COVID-19.
The champion opened the scoring at Centenario Stadium in Montevideo through Raphael Veiga early. Flamengo, which started the final as favorite, levelled in the second half thanks to Gabriel Barbosa. Substitute Deyverson netted the winner in the first half of extra time.
Palmeiras became the first team in 20 years to win back-to-back titles. Boca Juniors won in 2000 and ‘01, the first of those titles against Palmeiras in the final prevented the Brazilian side from retaining its first Copa title.
A counterattack started by defender Gustavo Gomez found right back Mayke free and onside thanks to Flamengo defender David Luiz. Mayke’s low cross reached Raphael Veiga, and he put it past goalkeeper Diego Alves in the sixth minute.
Flamengo wasted opportunities in the second half, and didn’t level until the 72nd, courtesy of its its top scorer Gabriel Barbosa. Assisted by Giorgian de Arrascaeta, the man nicknamed Gabigol scored from close range against goalkeeper Weverton, who was not quick enough to block the shot.
Barbosa scored both Flamengo goals in the 2-1 final win against River Plate in its second and last Copa triumph in 2019.
The 1-1 looked fair at the end of regular time. But it didn’t take long for Palmeiras to regain the upper hand.
A slip by Flamengo midfielder Andreas Pereira in the 95th made the difference. Deyverson, who replaced a fatigued Veiga minutes before, carried the ball all by himself and calmly beat goalkeeper Alves.
Deyverson returned to Palmeiras in June after a loan to Alaves, and was in tears after his first goal in this Copa.
“I had ups and downs here, I made many mistakes, but I never stopped working,” the striker, once again in tears, said.
Deyverson signed a five-year contract with Palmeiras in 2017, but problems on and off the pitch led him to being loaned to Getafe in 2020 and Alaves shortly later. Many Palmeiras fans did not enjoy the news of his return.
Deyverson surprised fans and players alike near the final whistle when he fell to the ground after being lightly touched on the back by Argentine referee Nestor Pitana. Pitana laughed at the player’s reaction and told him to stand up. Deyverson’s rolls on the pitch went viral on social media.
Flamengo goalkeeper Alves said they must congratulate Palmeiras and keep their heads up.
“It hurts a lot to lose it like this. We didn’t give many opportunities to Palmeiras. They played in their style, we played in ours. It wasn’t meant to be,” Alves said, adding midfielder Pereira should not be blamed for the defeat.
Brazil also contributed both finalists in the Copa Sudamericana, won by Athletico. This year marked the first time all four finalists of both Copas came from the same country. Palmeiras’ success was the eighth since 2010 for a Brazilian club.
Palmeiras eliminated local rival Sao Paulo in the quarterfinals and advanced to the final on the away goal rule after drawing at Atletico Mineiro. This week, CONMEBOL scrapped the away goals rule for all future competitions.