Thriving Bahraini clubs welcome Saudi neighbours for women’s football festival

Thriving Bahraini clubs welcome Saudi neighbours for women’s football festival
Bahraini club Ravens will take part in 4-team tournament celebrating the 91st Saudi National Day. (Abdullah Aboody)
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Updated 25 September 2021

Thriving Bahraini clubs welcome Saudi neighbours for women’s football festival

Thriving Bahraini clubs welcome Saudi neighbours for women’s football festival
  • Tournament in Juffair celebrates the Kingdom’s 91st National Day, and  will highlight the progress being made on and off the pitch in Bahrain

MANAMA: It’s Wednesday evening, and Ravens - a Bahraini women’s football team known as the Teal Army - are in training for a pre-season tournament being held on Saturday at Al-Najma Stadium, close to Bahrain’s lively Juffair district.

Kicking off in the early evening and hosted by Super Soccer Academy, who will also field a team, the event sees two Saudi Arabian women’s squads - Qatif and Eagles - crossing the border in what could be the beginning of an ongoing partnership with the nascent Saudi Women’s League.

Leading the way is Ravens captain Rama Salem, who along with her team mates and other teams in Bahrain, not to mention the visitors from the Kingdom, are part of a generation that is changing the way women’s football is being perceived in the Gulf and the Middle East.

Raven's team captain Rama Salem. (Abdullah Aboody)

The recent establishment of the women’s game in Saudi Arabia has seen a predictably huge upsurge in participation, even for an already football crazy country.

And with their championship entering its second season after its Covid-delayed 2020 beginnings, Saudi women’s teams may look to emulate the achievements of their Bahraini neighbours, especially in nurturing young talent for the future.

In Bahrain, youth football standards have been boosted by the arrival of academies linked to top-tier clubs, such as Juventus, allowing local women’s teams access to elite-level coaching. In tandem with a growing league, this guidance has led to rapid development for teams like Ravens.

The success of Ravens hasn’t been about winning titles. Instead it’s their pedigree in developing players, many of whom go on to bigger things abroad, that catches the eye.

The team will be without two of their best players this season, not because of injury or suspension, but because both have recently jetted off on football scholarships in two of the powerhouse nations of women’s football: America and Germany.

Salem attributes this developmental success to Ravens’ club mentality.

“We’re a team of inclusivity. Everyone gets a chance to play, no matter what their ability is, where they come from, their age,” she said.
“We want to give these girls a platform and a stage that was never really made available to me at their age.”

Charlotte Pilgrim, an 18-year-old from Middlesbrough in the UK, is one of Raven’s success stories. After playing for the club for nearly four years, she is now on a full football scholarship at Rio Grande College in the US.

Charlotte Pilgrim taking part in a Ravens raining session. (Sameer Alsaeed)

Charlotte’s family moved to Bahrain from England when she was four, but initially finding a football team was difficult.

“I always played with boys,” says Charlotte.

“I was in what was supposed to be a mixed team, but I was the only girl. I held a lot back because of that, stayed quiet. When I started playing in women’s teams I became a lot more confident and vocal.”

Charlotte played for some of the other local women’s teams, but never quite found what she was looking for until trying out for Ravens.

“Straight away I could see the atmosphere was so happy and supportive, like a family,” explains Charlotte.

“The older players and coach were always encouraging us. In fact, it was because of Rama that I ended up going to a trial and getting noticed.”

Charlotte’s successful trial in Bahrain led to her being selected for a training camp at the England national team’s training facility, St. George’s Park.

She was the only player not based in the UK to be invited.

Videos of her playing at England’s training ground were seen by her American college and she was offered a place starting this year.

Charlotte feels her experience in the Middle East has enabled her to quickly settle in her new team.

“I think the Bahraini style of play has helped me,” she says. “It’s more about possession rather than speed and power, and I tend to keep the ball better.”

Charlotte isn’t the only recent success for the Teal Army. The 13-year-old Jordanian-Bulgarian prodigy Yasmeen Al-Zurikat has recently headed off to Germany, where she will play at VfR Warbeyen's influential Kämpferherzen academy.

A great future is expected for 13-year-old prodigy Yasmeen Al-Zurikat. (Abdullah Aboody)

Raven’s captain believes she has a bright future ahead of her. “She’s a phenomenal player,” she says. “Even at 13, she’s the most composed player on the pitch.”

Salem is relishing the opportunity to play against teams from Saudi Arabia tonight, but it also excited about the wider implications of events like this.

“It’s great for the country and the region, and especially great to see a lot of Arab woman getting involved with the sport and breaking old stigmas.”

The event starts at 5pm and entry (to vaccinated individuals only) is free.

Organizers predict a carnival atmosphere as the tournament has been planned to coincide with the Saudi National Day celebration.

A 4-team round robin tournament with 30 minute matches will be the highlight, but there’ll also be tennis football, mini-matches and penalty competitions, in addition to food stalls on the beach nearby. 


Sebastien Loeb hopes UAE desert testing will boost bid for 2022 Dakar Rally glory

Sebastien Loeb hopes UAE desert testing will boost bid for 2022 Dakar Rally glory
Updated 07 December 2021

Sebastien Loeb hopes UAE desert testing will boost bid for 2022 Dakar Rally glory

Sebastien Loeb hopes UAE desert testing will boost bid for 2022 Dakar Rally glory
  • BRX team put the car which runs on new sustainable fuel through its paces in Umm Al-Quwain

DUBAI: Nine-time World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb believes that thorough testing in the UAE this week at the wheel of a car powered by a new sustainable fuel can boost his challenge for a first Dakar Rally victory in Saudi Arabia next month.

The world’s most successful rally driver and his Bahrain Raid Xtreme team-mates Nani Roma and Orlando Terranova have been taking part in a second wave of tests in the Emirates at the wheel the Hunter T1+.

Roma, twice a Dakar winner and the 2013 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge champion, put the T1+ through its paces in the Umm Al-Quwain desert last week before Loeb and Argentinian driver Terranova took over yesterday.

“This is extremely valuable testing as we have all the conditions here that we’re going to face in the Dakar,” said Loeb, accompanied by co-driver Fabian Lurquin.

“Added to that, it’s a perfect opportunity for us to work together to concentrate our efforts on navigation which is where the Dakar will be won or lost.”

Terranova, partnered by Dani Oliveras, commented: “It’s my first time in the new car and it is great to experience it in the same conditions as we will find on the Dakar in four weeks’ time. Dani and I have been working on our navigation as it will be crucial in Saudi Arabia not to make any mistakes.”

Roma and his co-driver, Alex Haro, had previously spent five days in Umm Al-Quwain testing the T1+, which uses fuel that reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent compared to petrol.

The fuel is made from second generation biofuel manufactured from agricultural waste and efuels created from carbon capture, and will be used in the three BRX cars at the 2022 Dakar, which starts on Jan. 1 in Saudi Arabia.

BRX believes the most demanding motor race in the world can demonstrate that such fuels can be used as an alternative to petrol and diesel in road transport, and immediately make a contribution to fighting climate change.

Over two weeks at the Dakar Rally, the cars will race 8,500 km across the deserts of the Kingdom, starting in Hail and finishing in Jeddah, with a mid-event rest day in Riyadh. 

T1+ cars run on larger tyres, with increased suspension travel and a wider track. The car now benefits from 37 inch tyres on 17 inch rims, with suspension travel increased from 280 mm to 350 mm and the body width increased from 2 meters to 2.3 meters to accommodate this. 

These changes have necessitated a radical redesign of the Hunter, and Prodrive has used this as an opportunity to make further improvements, including a larger windscreen for improved visibility and a refinement of a number of systems throughout the car.


World Champion Sunny Edwards keen to maintain dominance in Dubai

World Champion Sunny Edwards keen to maintain dominance in Dubai
Updated 07 December 2021

World Champion Sunny Edwards keen to maintain dominance in Dubai

World Champion Sunny Edwards keen to maintain dominance in Dubai
  • Reigning IBF flyweight champ will take on Filipino Jayson Mama at the Coca-Cola Arena

UK boxer Sunny Edwards, the IBF flyweight world champion, says headlining Probellum: Revolution in Dubai this coming Saturday will be a “life-changing” moment.

Probellum, the new global boxing promotion company spearheaded by Richard Schaefer, launched in September and holds its first event at Dubai’s Coca-Cola Arena, with Edwards defending his title against Filipino challenger Jayson Mama.

Having fought outside the UK on a few occasions earlier in his career, Edwards is relishing the prospect of competing in the UAE.

“It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time,” he said. “My management will tell you that I’ve always asked to get some international experience. I’m a world champion and I want to see the world. I’m not one of those world champions who just wants to defend the title against three fighters in Britain, that’s not what I’m all about. I want to go to Dubai, I want to go to Mexico, I want to go to Japan. I’ll go anywhere. It’s great to have this opportunity in Dubai.

“When I saw the venue, my head almost fell off. I couldn’t believe it,” Edwards added. “I made my debut in an industrial unit in Estepona, in Spain, had a couple of undercard slots where I got a taste of what the big life is like, gradually crept up and had a few arena shows, but this is completely different. Even the architecture looks like the Allianz Arena (in Munich).”

Having originally been due to face Mama in September, in the UK, Edwards was forced to pull out after sustaining an ankle injury during his training camp but, despite the inevitable frustration caused by the delay, he insists he is in great shape going into Saturday’s fight.

“There was a lot of talk about what happened but genuinely, I rolled my ankle and that put me out,” he explains. “I was devastated. All I like to do is fight, I can’t stress that enough. I’ve been involved in boxing for 16, 17 years and I don’t enjoy anything else. I can’t explain how much boxing, fighting and competing makes me feel alive, nothing else comes remotely close. I’m just buzzing for the fight to be here now.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been as fit, healthy or in as good a shape as I am right now. It’s the first fight in a while where I’m not really nursing an injury going into it, said Edwards. “When you’ve boxed as much as I have, and been in some of the fights I have, it’s going to take some lumps and bumps out of you, but this time it’s all gone well. I’m always confident but I’m in such a good place and even weight-wise, I’ve never done it this well before.”

Edwards said he is looking forward to establishing his name in this part of the world and is aware of his rival’s threat.

“Mama’s a good fighter. He’s done everything that has been asked of him so far,” he said. “I know he’s going to come into the ring with a lot of pent-up feelings and emotions. He’s going to come and try to take my head off because he’s been waiting patiently all year. He was my mandatory challenger and here we are now. I had my mind on Mama, I knew the conditions of me fighting for the world title were that, if I got through it, I’d be facing Mama next and I’m looking forward to it.

“He brings fire, he brings excitement and he wants to take my head off, but I’m fine with all of that. He could have dynamite in both hands, but I have the wind in my feet,” Edwards added.

Mama is one of three Filipino fighters on the card for Saturday’s event, with John Riel Casimero defending his WBO bantamweight title against Paul Butler, and Donnie Nietes facing Norbelto Jiminez.

“I’m sure they will have a lot of fans because it’s a big night for Filipino boxing,” says Edwards.

“Casimero is one of their brightest stars currently. Donnie Nietes has been one of their biggest stars and Mama, if he dethrones me, could be the next big thing coming out of there so it’s going to be pretty hostile but I thrive off that,” he said.

“If I was walking down the street and somebody decided to pick a fight with me, I’d have to kick into survival mode, and when I get into that mindset, it’s not about fighting for my family, or fighting to make my kids proud, or fighting to defend a title, it’s about me beating my opponent up instead of him beating me up. I can’t stress how simple it is in my mind. I think the simplicity of it provides a mental and emotional detachment of pressure.”

Edwards will be welcomed into the ring on Saturday by Michael Buffer, the most famous MC in the sport, and a man who has been involved in some of the biggest fights in history.

“Let’s face it, that’s like something out of a movie,” he admits. “I’m trying to be the most influential flyweight to walk the planet. If I’m getting announced by Michael Buffer, that says a lot about where I’m going. To headline such a great show is the stuff of dreams. Boxing is my place, my home, where I feel most comfortable. To be headlining the Coca-Cola Arena is amazing.

“Big-time boxing is coming to Dubai and it will be here to stay,” said Edwards. “This is going to be the start of something big and I’m buzzing to be a part of it. I can guarantee within the next two or three years, if not sooner, the biggest, best and most exciting fights in the world are all going to be happening in the UAE. 

“I’m just over the moon that a scruffy little kid from Croydon will be part of the first show. It’s life changing and I want to say a big thanks to Probellum for putting me on the card.”


F1 heads to Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit

F1 heads to Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit
Updated 07 December 2021

F1 heads to Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit

F1 heads to Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit
  • Drivers will take to shortened 5.28km track after it was altered for first time since 2009

ABU DHABI: As the chequered flag waved Lewis Hamilton to victory in Jeddah, putting him on level pegging with Max Verstappen in their battle for the 2021 Formula One Championship, the attention of the world’s motorsport fans and media turned to Yas Marina Circuit for what promises to be a nail-biting climax to the season in Abu Dhabi.

For the first time in 13 years, drivers and teams will be experiencing a revamped Yas Marina Circuit, with the new track layout shortened by 273 meters to 5.28km.

Following an extensive reconfiguration program during the summer across three key corners in North Hairpin, Marsa Corner and around the W Hotel section, the shorter, faster lap will allow cars to run closer together and, by default, will give the drivers more opportunity to overtake in certain areas.

Pre-race simulations by a number of teams have shown that lap times may drop by as much as 13 seconds in total, a significant decrease that will be sure to throw up a few surprises as teams adjust to new lap times of around 1 minute and 23 seconds.

Teams will be looking to get to grips with the track during the three practice sessions, ahead of Saturday’s qualifying, as they approach at more than 300 km per hour for the first time the revised, sweeping corner at North Hairpin, and race wheel-to-wheel through the elevated Marsa Corner.

The new hotel section, with reduced “Constantine effect” that previously saw drivers bunch up, has new corners that should reduce tyre slide to keep drivers on the track, helping to maintain a more tightly packed field.

While overtaking is unlikely through this section, by staying closer to one another the revised layout tees up overtaking opportunities elsewhere around the lap.

As Sunday approaches, what is certain is that Yas Marina Circuit’s revised layout will provide even more action than ever, in what will be the most exciting finale in recent years.


Saudi, GCC entrants set to dominate in Hail

Saudi, GCC entrants set to dominate in Hail
Updated 07 December 2021

Saudi, GCC entrants set to dominate in Hail

Saudi, GCC entrants set to dominate in Hail
  • Twenty-six bikes and 10 quads will tackle the four desert sections laid on by the Saudi Arabian Motor and Motorcycle Federation

HAIL: Saudi Arabian and Gulf Cooperation Council country riders dominate the motorcycle and quad entry for this week’s Hail Cross-Country Rally, the four-day finale to the world’s 2021 off-road season.

While most attention this week in the north-central region of Saudi Arabia turns to the battle for FIA World Cup glory and the duel between Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Argentina’s Lucio Alvarez for the drivers’ title, the two-wheel protagonists will be looking for their own success in the absence of the world’s top cross-country riders.

Austria’s Matthias Walkner clinched the 2021 FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship on a KTM and, as teams such as Honda, KTM, Sherco, Husqvarna, Yamaha and GasGas make their final preparations for the Dakar Rally, the stage is left open for regional riders to shine. 

Twenty-six bikes and 10 quads will tackle the four desert sections laid on by the Saudi Arabian Motor and Motorcycle Federation. 

The 2019 Sharqiya Baja winner Mishal Al-Ghuneim heads the two-wheel section on his Husqvarna FR 450 Rally and faces competition from the likes of fellow countrymen Fawaz Al-Toimi, Abdulhalim Al-Mogheera and Mohammed Al-Khater. 

Qatar is represented by Sheikh Mohammed Al-Thani (Honda), Mohammed Al-Kaabi (Beta), Abdulrahman Al-Sheeb (Beta) and Ali Mubarak Al-Badi (Yamaha). 

Sarah Khuraibet finished fourth in the women’s category of the FIM Bajas World Cup and represents Kuwait on her Husqvarna, while Salman Farhan is the sole representative from Bahrain, also on a Husqvarna. 

With Mohammed Al-Balooshi missing the Hail event to finalize his Dakar preparations, Othman Al-Ghefeli leads the Emirati challenge on a Honda CRF. He is joined by Hamdan Al-Ali and Abdullah Lanjawi. Lebanon’s Ehab Al-Hakeem and Italy’s Mauro Torrini round off the international two-wheel contingent. 

Abdulmajeed Al-Khulaifi won the quad category in Hail on six occasions between 2014 and 2019 and the Yamaha Raptor 700 rider heads nine Saudi rivals that include Sultan Al-Masoud, 2021 Sharqiya Baja winner Hani Al-Noumesi, and Haitham Al-Tuwaijri, the 2021 FIM Bajas World Cup quad champion. 

Scrutineering and technical checks take place at the rally headquarters in Hail on Monday and Tuesday in advance of the ceremonial start at Maghwat, scheduled from 6 p.m. on Tuesday. Competitors will then tackle four desert stages from Dec. 8 to 11.


Euro final review finds England fans endangered lives

Euro final review finds England fans endangered lives
Updated 07 December 2021

Euro final review finds England fans endangered lives

Euro final review finds England fans endangered lives
  • Some 100,000 fans gathered around the north London stadium for the match despite pandemic curbs capping the 90,000-seat Wembley’s capacity at 67,000

LONDON: Aggression by England fans at the European Championship final exposed an “embarrassing” part of the national culture that endangered lives and should lead to fans being barred from stadiums if they are chanting abuse and under the influence of drugs or alcohol, an investigation into the disorder has concluded.

The review found that around 2,000 ticketless supporters stormed into Wembley on July 11 after 17 “mass breaches” of the stadium gates, with many forcing their way through disabled access entrances by punching and kicking stewards before England lost to Italy in the country’s first men’s final since winning the 1966 World Cup.

“The behavior of a large minority of England supporters was not just disgraceful, it recklessly endangered lives,” Louise Casey, an experienced former government official, said in a 129-page report published Friday.

“The appalling behavior of supporters on Euro Sunday should be a wake-up call for us all. For too long, the actions of a minority of England fans have been tolerated as a part of our national culture (albeit an embarrassing one), rather than confronted head-on.”

The review said had England won the game, a ticketless group of 6,000 people were thought to be preparing to storm the stadium to see the trophy presented.

Casey blamed the ability for the rampage to take place on a “collective failure” and said she did not want to “scapegoat” anyone.

“A minority of England supporters turned what should have been a day of national pride into a day of shame,” Casey said.

Casey recommended that the English Football Association leads a campaign to bring about a “sea-change in attitudes” by fans.

Some 100,000 fans gathered around the north London stadium for the match despite pandemic curbs capping the 90,000-seat Wembley’s capacity at 67,000.

“The threats, aggression, violence, smoke and flare use, throwing of missiles — including faeces — excessive consumption of alcohol and cocaine all combined to fuel a febrile atmosphere,” Casey said. “A loss of experienced stewards as a result of the pandemic left Wembley’s stewarding operation vulnerable when confronted with the most aggressive and disorderly crowd Wembley had ever seen.”

Casey condemned fans who “targeted disabled supporters in a predatory fashion” to gain entry.

“In one appalling incident,” she said, “a ticketless fan tried to impersonate a steward and hijack a disabled child and separated him from his father, in order to trick his way through a pass gate.”

The insufficient enforcement of the ban on drinking alcohol on public transport in London was highlighted in the report.

“The FA and Wembley, working with others, should step up action on eradicating such behaviors from football ... refusing to allow entry to fans who arrive chanting foul abuse and/ or are clearly under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs,” she said.

Casey said tailgating should become a criminal offense.

“The existing enforcement mechanisms available to the police and other enforcement officers do not offer enough deterrent against those determined to use the cover of football matches to commit criminal offenses,” she said.

Players’ families were caught up in the unrest, with England defender Harry Maguire’s father injuring ribs.

UEFA has already punished England, with a home Nations League game in June having to be played in an empty stadium. A second empty-stadium game was deferred for a two-year probationary period.

“The review makes clear that the circumstances leading up to the match led to a perfect storm of lawlessness,” FA chief executive Mark Bullingham said in a statement. “No event is set up to deal with such disgraceful behaviour from thousands of ticketless fans. Collectively we must never allow this to happen again.”