LONDON: Muslim convert and Manchester United football star Paul Pogba has revealed the reason why he holds the late boxer Muhammad Ali up as one of his heroes — and it was not because of his legendary record in the ring.
The French national team star was responding to a question from Sky Sports asking who his hero was as a child.
The 28-year-old midfielder said: “Muhammad Ali. He was someone that I think kind of saved lives. A hero is somebody that saves lives, that helps people, and I think that is what he did.”
Ali, similar to Pogba, converted to Islam during his sporting career.
“He is a converted man, and I am converted also, so it was very interesting for me to learn about his story.
“I think (Islam) has given me an identity. Sometimes you question your life about everything: Why has this happened to me, why is this, why is that?
“I think Islam has given me this guide, the Qur’an has given me a guide, of how to be and why you are here in life. It opened my eyes more about life, about everything, about important things, more than football and more than sport, not to take things so seriously, that everything is written for you, so your destiny is your destiny, you cannot change that, and you should just enjoy it,” he added.
Pogba said he hoped he could be more like Ali, who changed his name from Cassius Clay when he became a Muslim.
“He saved a lot of people, but not by taking somebody out of the fire, but just by giving a good message, helping the world, saying the truth when it was difficult to say, at a time when it was difficult for black people. He spoke for the black community and helped us to have freedom today.”
The footballer’s mother was a practicing Muslim, but he revealed in 2019 that he was not raised as a Muslim. He later reconnected with the faith after speaking and praying with his Muslim friends.
Formula One is transforming Jeddah, says Saudi trailblazer Reema Juffali
Saudi Arabian Grand Prix ambassador says event proves how passionate Saudi Arabia is about top-level motorsport
Updated 46 min 54 sec ago
JEDDAH: Saudi trailblazer Reema Juffali is delighted with how hosting the Formula One Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in Jeddah has brought an “energy” to the city and confirms how passionate Saudis are about the sport.
The Kingdom’s first female racing driver, who is also a race ambassador for the grand prix, told Arab News ahead of Sunday’s race that the event is having a “massive” impact on the city.
“I mean everyone, the city, my friends and family, everyone is so excited,” she said. “You can feel the energy having an international event like this, with everything it brings, from the concerts and the events, that ripple effect Formula One has is massive,” she said.
“And I understand that now firsthand, especially the fact that I know what my city is and, now, how it’s changed with the Formula One here.
“I guess just the buildup to this weekend, today the race day, we’ve seen quite a few different things over the weekend and every day it has been very, very busy. Usually, you find some days a little less busy, but from the Friday, as soon as the gates opened, getting around you’re weaving through people.
“And I’ve been to other events and it’s generally not that busy on the Friday, so it just shows you how excited the Saudis are and how much they’re looking forward to it.”
Juffali said she feels honored and blessed to be chosen as a race ambassador and to be representing her country on an international level. She told Arab News how important telling her story will be in inspiring Saudi children to get involved in motorsport.
“I think that is what kind of brought this on, and my experience in racing single seaters has been my career and life for the past three years, so it felt like a fitting role for me and something that I very much look forward to taking on,” she said.
“A lot of it has been sharing my story, connecting with Saudis and Arabs alike, giving them a chance to dream of getting into Formula One, making that a dream for them.
“And nice to see, as well, another side to this sport because it’s not just racing, there’s a whole other world, there’s media, engineering, hospitality — it brings so much with it.
“So, I see that as my role, spreading that awareness and allowing people to understand what the sport entails,” she added.
At the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, world championship leader Max Verstappen can potentially clinch the title, but Juffali is hoping the battle between him and seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton can be extended for one more week beyond Jeddah, with the season concluding in Abu Dhabi next week.
“It’s going to be interesting. I think we saw that Max was quite eager in qualifying, but you also saw that he has the speed, so it is there,” she said. “It depends on overtaking, but I think that Lewis could potentially be at a disadvantage starting at the front.
“We don’t know that for sure, but it seems like it’s not going to be as simple in terms of overtaking, so I think if he has a good start and it’s a clean race, and we don’t get safety cars (he has a chance).
“But the more the race is interrupted, the more Max will have a chance, I think. In the end, it’s about getting the championship done in the next race, at least for myself, I want to see it go to the end,” she added.
Away from the Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabia and the glamor of F1, Juffali reflected on her season driving in the UK in the British F3 championship the past year — the first in which she felt she could say she was “an actual racing driver” — and told Arab News that, while she felt she did not reach her full potential on the track, she took away many other victories and lessons from the season.
“My driving was a lot more consistent, I was in the pack, always there or thereabouts and close to a good position,” she said. “Often, something would happen, whether it was a mistake from my side or I got unlucky. So, overall, I don’t think my performance reflected my ability.
“But in terms of confidence, in terms of how I’ve grown as a driver... I felt that connection with the car, what it felt like to be able to translate to my engineer and communicate these things.
“So, there were definitely merits and it was a very enjoyable year, and I will take those to the next stage, which I will hopefully announce soon. Stay tuned, you’ll hear more about it.”
Stay tuned for the F1 action throughout the evening
Updated 10 min 25 sec ago
JEDDAH: The eyes of the sporting world will turn to Jeddah on Sunday as the inagural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix revs into action under the lights along Jeddah's Corniche coast.
Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton starts the race in pole position after Saturday's qualifying session, while his world championship title rival Max Verstappen starts in third.
The Dutchman holds an eight-point advantage over the British legend in the championship standings, and could potentially seal the title in Saudi Arabia if Hamilton has a calamitous race.
Follow all the action here throughout the evening. (All times AST)
15:45 - In case you missed it, Arab News spoke to Saudi trailblazing female racing driver Reema Juffali ahead of the race, see what she makes of Jeddah hosting Formula One and who she thinks will win below...
African teams shine: 5 things we learned from second round of group matches at 2021 FIFA Arab Cup
Egypt, Algeria and Morocco join hosts Qatar in the quarterfinals, while UAE in danger of exit despite recording two wins
Updated 05 December 2021
With two rounds of matches of the 2021 FIFA Arab Cup group stages already over, the tournament is starting to take shape, with several teams, including hosts Qatar, Egypt and Algeria, confirming qualification to the quarterfinals. Here are five things we learned from the latest action:
1. Syria finally have some luck against careless Tunisia
It has been a tough few months for the Syrian national team, with just two points from the first six games in the final round of qualification for the 2022 World Cup, but on Friday they managed to shock Tunisia with a 2-0 win.
The Eagles of Carthage will be kicking themselves, especially as Fabrouk Ben Mustapha really should have saved a fairly tame shot from Oliver Kass Kawo in the fourth minute. Tunisia did everything they could to score, but just could not get the equalizer — a task that was made much harder at the end of the first half when Mohamed Ben Romdhane was sent off for an elbow.
Then, early in the second half, came a beautiful curling shot from Mohammed Anz that was good enough to win any game. Nevertheless, Tunisia had the possession and the chances to take at least a point, and will rue their missed opportunities. They must now beat UAE in the third game to be sure of a place in the knockout stage, while Syria are very much in the hunt.
2. Qatar not yet in top gear but progress
Qatar’s 2-1 win over Oman showed the benefits of competitive games. Oman have been active in the final round of qualification for the World Cup and are doing pretty well. They matched the Asian champions on their home turf and only a 97th-minute winner stopped them from taking a point.
The hosts will not mind too much that the goal only just crossed the line since it guaranteed top spot in Group A and a place in the quarterfinals. It remains to be seen what kind of team coach Felix Sanchez puts out in the remaining group match against Iraq on Tuesday. With the last-eight clash taking place just three days later, the Spanish boss will be tempted to rest some of his stars, including Akram Afif, who caused problems and scored the opening goal. But Qatar look a little rusty and more games are what this team needs.
3. Morocco could press their way to the title
Jordan looked pretty good in their 1-0 win over Saudi Arabia in the opening game, but were then swept aside by Morocco, losing 4-0. Their hopes looked slim after 15 minutes, already a goal down and losing star forward Baha Faisal to injury, but things continued downhill from there.
It was just not much of a contest as the North Africans were a level above: Clinical in attack and working hard all over the pitch to deny Jordan time, possession and chances. At times, the pressing from the Atlas Lions was up to Liverpool’s standards.
Despite being without their European-based stars, this Morocco team were simply too good for a Jordan team that looked solid against the Saudis. It bodes well for the rest of the tournament. After two games, they have scored eight and conceded none. There is still a long way to go, but on this form they will take some stopping. Jordan’s goal difference has taken a battering and they will have to bounce back against Palestine.
4. Egypt and Algeria too good and rob tournament of crunch clash
It was always likely that Egypt, who defeated nine-man Sudan 5-0, and Algeria, who picked up a 2-0 victory over Lebanon, would end up taking the top two spots in Group D. It is a shame for the Arab Cup, however, that both these great rivals are already through to the quarterfinals ahead of their meeting on Tuesday — though the likelihood that top spot will mean that red-hot Morocco are avoided in the next round may add some spice.
As expected, Egypt were just too strong for Sudan and were three goals to the good by the half hour. The first, by Ahmed Refaat, was a real stunner and an early contender for goal of the tournament. The Pharaohs had no need to get out of second gear, with Hussein Faisal impressing on the right side of midfield on his international debut.
Algeria had a much more difficult second game against Lebanon, though they will not mind that. The Cedars are tough to beat and asked a lot of questions of the African champions. It means that the game with Egypt will lack tension, but on current form, these North African giants could end up meeting again.
5. Despite perfect record, UAE in danger of elimination
The UAE defeated Mauritania 1-0 to move onto six points. Usually, two wins from the first two games of the group means an early place in the knockout stage, or as good as, but not for UAE. The Whites may be three points clear of Tunisia and Syria, but need to be careful.
There was widespread relief at the 93rd-minute goal from Khalil Ibrahim that gave a 1-0 win over Mauritania. The African team withstood everything that the Asian team threw in their direction, with goalkeeper Mbacke Ndiaye deservedly winning man of the match.
But a goal difference of plus two after two wins is a danger. If the UAE lose to Tunisia, who thrashed Mauritania 5-1 and were unlucky to lose to Syria, and Syria win against Mauritania, then UAE will be going home.
Late goal salvages point for Saudi Arabia against Palestine and maintains hopes of FIFA Arab Cup progress
A 1-1 draw leaves Green Falcons needing a win in last match against Morocco to have chance of reaching the quarterfinals
Updated 05 December 2021
Abdullah Al-Hamdan’s late goal earned Saudi Arabia a 1-1 draw with Palestine on Saturday and kept alive their hopes of progressing into the quarterfinals of the Arab Cup.
A first-half stunner from Mohammed Rashid in Qatar’s Education City looked to have condemned the young Green Falcons to a second successive defeat, three days after losing 1-0 to Jordan, but an equalizer with eight minutes remaining from the Al-Hilal striker earned the men in white a vital point.
The draw leaves Saudi Arabia in third in Group C with one point from two games and above Palestine on goal difference. Jordan have three points, while Morocco, the next opponents for Laurent Bonadei’s men, are already assured of a place in the last eight after winning both games so far 4-0. Only the top two teams progress.
With Saudi Arabia, who made eight changes from the Jordan game, fielding an inexperienced U-23 team, it was always going to be a difficult test and so it proved.
The first half was cagey, though Palestine started a little livelier, with both teams lacking quality in delivering the final ball. The first sight of goal for Saudi Arabia came with a free-kick after 14 minutes. Mohammed Al-Qahtani, the Al-Hilal teenager making his first start for the national team, curled a shot over the Palestine bar.
Palestine came close in the 37th minute. Tamer Seyam, the best player on the pitch in the first half, beat two men and his cross from the byline was heading for Khaled Salam, but Saudi goalkeeper Zaid Al-Bawardi managed to palm the ball away from the forward’s foot.
Then, in added time before the break, Palestine took the lead in some style. Rashid received the ball in the middle of the Saudi Arabia half, took two touches and then let loose an unstoppable shot that flew into the roof of the net to give the Indonesia-based defender his first international goal.
Saudi Arabia began the second half with purpose, moving the ball around quickly. Soon after the restart, Abdullah Radif forced a save from Amr Kaddura, the Palestine goalkeeper’s first real stop of the game. Moments later, Al-Qahtani’s low shot went just wide of the left post.
With 18 minutes remaining, Ayman Yahya’s shot from the edge of the box was deflected wide. On more than one occasion, there was frustration from the Saudi players waiting in the area at the quality of the final ball.
There was always a danger from Palestine counterattacks, which became more frequent the more Saudi Arabia pushed forward. Seyam, perhaps, should have scored and almost certainly sealed the win with a quarter of an hour remaining, but instead blasted the ball over.
Palestine rued that miss after 82 minutes when Saudi Arabia scored their first goal of the tournament. A long ball out of defense found Haitham Asiri on the right and his low pass was coolly slotted home by Al-Hamdan.
It was no less than this rookie Saudi Arabia team deserved, and they could even have won had Waleed Al-Ahmad not headed wide in injury time.
Next comes Morocco — the form team of the tournament so far — on Wednesday. The Atlas Lions have won both games, against Palestine and Jordan 4-0, and were impressive.
Morocco are already through to the last eight and may rest a few players, but regardless, for Saudi Arabia, a win is needed and then it depends on what happens during the showdown between Palestine and Jordan.
Prince Sultan: We will have Saudi drivers in Formula One
Racing pioneer, the first Saudi, Arab and Muslim in space, says ingenuity and determination in his country’s genetics
Updated 05 December 2021
JEDDAH: When you have seen Earth from space, your perspective on life, quite literally, changes.
The first Arab, and Muslim, to get that life-changing view, Prince Sultan bin Salman, has already lived a life few could imagine. Perhaps one that is a metaphor for the Kingdom’s hunger to always strive for the next achievement.
“Well, I haven’t started yet achieving anything I really wanted, so give me time, we’re still at the beginning,” Prince Sultan said with a knowing smile, “but every experience has its own dimensions, and I took it on in my life not to compare experiences.”
From the vastness of space to the desolation of the desert, it is all about appreciating the moment.
“I could be walking with my camels in the desert,” he said. “On the space shuttle experience, it was a completely separate experience. As pilots, we’re very excited. But then when you go into space, (the) shuttle is really not a pilot experience. You think it’s like ‘I’m a pilot, I’m going to enjoy seeing the Earth for a bit of further destination distance.’”
In his book "Seven Days in Space", the prince expands on becoming the first Arab astronaut at the age of only 28.
Prince Sultan’s passion these days is flying Learjets, a legacy of his days as a pilot with the Royal Saudi Air Force in the 1980s. His trip on the Space Shuttle Discovery would take place from June 17 through June 24, 1985. But it was in the 1970s that he fell in love with cars — his own and, eventually, Formula One cars.
The first-ever Saudi Arabian Grand Prix may be hours away but the Kingdom’s historical connection with F1, perhaps a forgotten one, stretches back to the late 1970s and early ‘80s. And for that, Prince Sultan can take a big share of the credit.
It was a chance meeting with Frank Williams — who passed away last week at the age of 79 — in Colorado in 1978 that would lead to Saudi Arabia’s first steps into F1. Prince Sultan remembers him with genuine affection.
It’s going to become an industry in Saudi, and it’s going to become something that we make, and we’d be proud of. You’ll see Saudi Arabia surpassing in technology and development and of course, in drivers.
Prince Sultan bin Salman
“Frank Williams, God bless his soul,” he said. “He was a good man, he loved Saudi Arabia, and I really wished that he would have come to this (grand prix) because I was communicating that when he came, we’ll do a joint interview on television about how the team started.”
Soon the owner of Williams racing, established in 1977, and its technical director, Patrick Head, were visiting the Kingdom, where Prince Sultan introduced him to his late brother and mentor, Prince Fahd bin Salman, and Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf Al-Saud, the fomer ambassador for Saudi Arabia to Italy and the UK.
“And then the sponsorships started falling in,” said Prince Sultan.
These partners were Al Bilad, which gave its name to the team, and national airline and major sponsor Saudia, which backed the team to the tune of $100,000, a fortune in those days.
The two Williams cars would also carry numbers associated with Prince Sultan.
“I was born on June 27,” he said, “so we have the two cars 27 and 6. And then we had 28, which is the backup car. So when Frank and I were talking, Frank said he was willing to do anything. I wish I’d said I’d like to own half of the team for bringing in a sponsor and all that. He would have done that, but I was in it for fun.”
And fun he would have. A famous trip to California for the Long Beach Grand Prix in 1979 - in which saw the trio of Saudi Princes enjoying the company of the likes of Williams, legendary drivers Niki Lauda and James Hunt, and former Beatle George Harrison.
Well, I haven’t started yet achieving anything I really wanted, so give me time, we’re still at the beginning.
Prince Sultan bin Salman
“Harrison had a very nice personality,” said Prince Sultan. “I met some of those rock and roll stars in America, and we’d go to concerts. But George Harrison was very, very polite, nice to be with. We would go to dinners and events, he would sit at the same table, and we’d talk. He offered once that if I came to London, he would introduce me to a couple of The Beatles.”
With “Fly Saudia” adorning its wings, Williams stormed to the Constructors Championship in 1980 and 1981. The Australian Alan Jones, who had posted the team's first ever win at that memorable Long Beach Grand Prix, drove Williams to the Driver’s Championship in the first of those triumphs, and in 1983, Keke Rosberg — father of 2016 F1 champion Nico — retained the individual title for the team despite winning only one race all season.
On Saturday, Dec. 4, Prince Sultan’s story with F1 came full circle as he visited Jeddah Corniche Circuit and alongside Alan Jones, Jackie Stewart, Saudi Minister of Sport Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal and Aramco CEO Amin Nasser, paused for photos on a modern day reproduction of those iconic Williams cars from the early 1980s.
For Jones in particular, this was a poignant reunion four decades after his championship win with Williams.
The prince is still a fan of F1 and joked that he will not be cheering for Lewis Hamilton as “he’s won everything” and should leave something to the others.
I’m always in favor of the young drivers who have just come to this industry,” said Prince Sultan.
• The first-ever Saudi Arabian Grand Prix may be hours away but the Kingdom’s historical connection with F1, perhaps a forgotten one, stretches back to the late 1970s and early ‘80s. And for that, Prince Sultan can take a big share of the credit.
• It was a chance meeting with Frank Williams — who passed away last week at the age of 79 — in Colorado in 1978 that would lead to Saudi Arabia’s first steps into F1. Prince Sultan remembers him with genuine affection.
Conditions for the first ever Saudi Arabian Grand Prix are ideal, he believes. “It comes down to, of course, Jeddah is at sea level and there’s the fantastic timing of December now,” he said. “So the cars are not going to suffer. It reminds me of Long Beach because it’s right on the ocean, it’s on the beach. We don’t have the Queen Mary parked there, but we have beautiful Jeddah and it’s really tremendous, we’re all looking forward to it.”
Prince Sultan is proud of all things Saudi and highlights the achievements of its engineers, artists, photographers and sportsmen. He sees a time when world class drivers will be added to the list.
“Eventually, we’re going to have Saudi drivers (in) F1,” he said. “It is genetic here, I’m telling you, it’s genetic here to be able to do a lot of things, and completely connect very quickly. The talent is here.”
Prince Sultan added: “If you want the definitive thing from me, I say Saudi Arabia not only has to host F1 — we have to go beyond that. We have to do what Saudi Arabia does best, not to beat this or to be better than that, but we need to do our own car and push the technology that will filter down to other things we do here in Saudi, and we need to build it and design it.”
The motorsport industry in the Kingdom has already taken major steps in recent years, with the hosting of the Dakar Rally, Formula E and Extreme E, and now, the grandest of the lot.
“Saudi Arabia’s relationship with F1 is not going to stop, I’m sure, by hosting it on the racetrack,” he said. “It’s going to become an industry in Saudi, and it’s going to become something that we make, and we’d be proud of. You’ll see Saudi Arabia surpassing in technology and development and of course, in drivers.” We’re still at the beginning.