State holding Australian Open says no to unvaccinated players

State holding Australian Open says no to unvaccinated players
Tennis Australia said earlier this week it was working with both the Victorian and federal governments on conditions for players. (AFP)
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Updated 27 October 2021

State holding Australian Open says no to unvaccinated players

State holding Australian Open says no to unvaccinated players
  • Nine-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic is one of many players who have refused to share their vaccination status

MELBOURNE: Unvaccinated players will not get special dispensation for the Australian Open, the top official in the state holding the Grand Slam said Wednesday, potentially ruling out reigning men’s champion Novak Djokovic.
A leaked email earlier this week suggested that players who were not inoculated against the coronavirus would be able to take part as long as they completed 14 days’ quarantine.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison then said that unvaccinated players would be permitted to enter the country if they received an exemption, which the host state Victoria would need to apply for on behalf of players.
But Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews quickly ruled that out.
“We are locking people who are unvaccinated out of pubs, cafes, restaurants and the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground) and all sorts of other events,” he said.
“We’re not going to be applying for an exemption. Therefore, the issue is basically resolved.”
Australia’s federal government controls the country’s border and issues visas.
But during the pandemic state governments have run quarantine facilities and imposed vaccine mandates, making it unclear who will get the final say on the Australian Open rules.
Nine-time Australian Open champion Djokovic is one of many players who have refused to share their vaccination status, casting doubt over whether he will defend his title at Melbourne Park in January.
This year’s Australian Open was hit hard by the pandemic with all players going through two weeks of quarantine, while crowds were restricted and a five-day snap lockdown called mid-event.
A leaked WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) email on Monday had suggested unvaccinated players will be allowed to compete at the 2022 event if they complete hotel quarantine and submit to regular coronavirus testing.
Fully vaccinated players are expected to be able to enter Australia without quarantining or being confined to bio-secure bubbles, the email added.
Tennis Australia said earlier this week it was working with both the Victorian and federal governments on conditions for players, saying it was “optimistic that we can hold the Australian Open as close to pre-pandemic conditions as possible.”


Chelsea beats Watford 2-1 to stay top of Premier League

Chelsea beats Watford 2-1 to stay top of Premier League
Updated 02 December 2021

Chelsea beats Watford 2-1 to stay top of Premier League

Chelsea beats Watford 2-1 to stay top of Premier League
  • Chelsea remained a point ahead of Manchester City and two clear of Liverpool on a night when all three teams won

WATFORD: Chelsea stayed top of the Premier League with a hard-fought 2-1 win at Watford on Wednesday in a match that was halted for 32 minutes in the first half after a spectator suffered cardiac arrest.
Substitute Hakim Ziyech grabbed the winner for the leaders in the 72nd minute, converting a cross from Mason Mount — the England midfielder who had put Chelsea in front in the 29th.
By then, the teams had been taken off by the referee because of the medical emergency in the stands that happened after about 13 minutes. The incident happened on the side of the field where Chelsea left back Marcos Alonso was stationed and he appeared to alert the referee and the medical staff on the touchline.
The spectator was stabilized and taken away on a stretcher to applause from the crowd.
Emmanuel Dennis equalized for Watford in the 43rd after Ruben Loftus-Cheek — one of a number of fringe players handed a start by Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel because of injuries — was dispossessed in the center circle by Moussa Sissoko, who drove forward and set up his teammate to score.
Chelsea remained a point ahead of Manchester City and two clear of Liverpool on a night when all three teams won.
Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel said his weakened team was “lucky” to come away with all three points
“That’s not us. We were absolutely not ready today for this match," said Tuchel, who was without Reece James, N'Golo Kante, Ben Chilwell, Mateo Kovacic because of injury while Timo Werner and Jorginho started on the bench because they needed a rest.
“I missed maybe to find the right approach to make my team ready. We had the break due to very sad circumstances – hopefully the person is better — but even this break after the first (13) minutes did not change our approach. We did not cope with the pressure, with the first ball, second ball.”
Tuchel said all his team did was “hang in there.”
“I see this totally as an exception from the rule," he said. “I will not insist too long on this match because it’s so unusual for us to play like this.”
Tuchel said he was concerned about an injury sustained by defender Trevoh Chalobah in the second half.
“The doctor was on the pitch 20 times today it felt like,” he said. “It’s a big loss, Trev. I’m a bit worried.”


Saudi Arabia kick off 2021 FIFA Arab Cup campaign with 1-0 defeat by Jordan

Saudi Arabia kick off 2021 FIFA Arab Cup campaign with 1-0 defeat by Jordan
Updated 02 December 2021

Saudi Arabia kick off 2021 FIFA Arab Cup campaign with 1-0 defeat by Jordan

Saudi Arabia kick off 2021 FIFA Arab Cup campaign with 1-0 defeat by Jordan
  • Herve Renard’s young Falcons created few chances during a match in which both teams had a man sent off

Saudi Arabia’s Arab Cup campaign began with a 1-0 defeat by Jordan on Wednesday at the Education City Stadium in Qatar. Both teams ended the game with 10 men.

While the result was not a huge shock, given the youth and inexperience of a young Green Falcons side shorn of most of their big-name players and featuring no outfielder born before 1999, the performance was disappointing, with few chances created until the dying moments. The Saudis were second best for much of the match, even though Jordan were reduced to 10 men after 53 minutes when midfielder Ehsan Haddad was sent off.

Despite the numerical disadvantage, the Nashama took the lead 10 minutes later thanks to Mahmoud Al-Mardi. And just as Saudi Arabia were beginning to press for an equalizer, defender Khalifa Al-Dawsari received marching orders of his own with 17 minutes remaining. The three-time Asian champions did manage to produce a late flurry that included an injury-time equalizer that was disallowed for a foul on the goalkeeper.

Earlier in the day, Morocco moved into first place in Group C with a 4-0 victory over Palestine, so the defeat leaves the Saudis, who rarely troubled Jordan’s goalkeeper Yazeed Abulaila, with much to do if they are to progress to the last eight of the 16-team tournament.

Jordan had much the better of the first half, with nine attempts on goal. After 15 minutes, Yazan Al-Arab headed a corner straight into the arms of Mohamed Al-Rubaie. Moments later, a fierce long-range effort by Haddad went just over the bar.

The Reds were happy to shoot from distance, and after 25 minutes a looping shot by Mahmoud Al-Mardi from outside the area went wide. Soon after, Yazan Al-Naimat danced past a couple of Saudi challenges, only to shoot weakly at the goalkeeper.

The young Falcons struggled to get any sort of rhythm going at all, with Laurent Bonadei, manager Herve Renard’s assistant who is in charge of the team during games, growing increasingly animated on the touchline.

Eight minutes before the break, Jordan had their best chance so far. Al-Mardi’s left-sided cross seemed perfect but while Baha Faisal rose high above the Saudi defense to meet it, his header went well wide.

A goal looked to be coming and it seemed to have arrived a minute later. Just moments after Al-Naimat shot wide from a good position at the corner of the area, the Saudis gave the ball away cheaply. The forward gratefully received the ball near the penalty spot and made no mistake in firing home. However the VAR ruled that he was a centimeter or two offside during the build-up.

Saudi Arabia were happy to end the half on level terms after giving the Jordanian goalkeeper little to do — and their own coach much to think about.

The second half began in a similar vein as Jordan again came within a whisker of breaking the deadlock. Faisal got on the end of a free kick but his header hit the underside of the crossbar, and although Adnan Hamad’s men argued that the ball had bounced behind the line, play continued.

In the 53rd minute, Saudi Arabia seemed to get the break they badly needed when Haddad, who could have no complaints, was shown a straight red for a rash tackle on Turki Al-Ammar.

Yet Jordan recovered quickly from the setback to take the lead just after the hour mark. Faisal crossed from the left and, though the initial cross was blocked by Al-Dawsari, the ball fell to Al-Mardi whose shot hit the prone defender and bounced into the back of the net.

It took time after that for Saudi Arabia to get into the game but just as it was starting to happen, Al-Dawsari was sent off, with 17 minutes remaining, leaving both teams a man short.

Yet the boys from Riyadh should have equalized in stoppage time. Abdullah Al-Qahtani’s initial shot was saved by Abulaila at the near post but the ball bounced out to Aidan Hamed, only for him to blast it over the bar from a perfect position.

There was still time for controversy, as the Saudis had a goal ruled out after captain Saud Abdulhamid was adjudged to have fouled the goalkeeper when they both jumped for the ball.

“I’m really proud of my players, who gave their all in the match, but when we were 11 versus 10, we wanted to attack and score first and we made a mistake,” said Bonadei. “We did well but unfortunately it didn’t happen. I think we can improve. We have to win the next game against Palestine.”

That match will take place on Saturday, with Jordan taking on Morocco the same day.


Former Finnish F1 driver enjoys Saudi hospitality 

Former Finnish F1 driver enjoys Saudi hospitality 
Updated 02 December 2021

Former Finnish F1 driver enjoys Saudi hospitality 

Former Finnish F1 driver enjoys Saudi hospitality 
  • Danube, the supermarket and hypermarket chain in Saudi Arabia, hosted a “Racing Kitchen” event at Red Sea Mall in Jeddah with Häkkinen
  • Two Finnish drivers, Kimi Räikkönen and Valtteri Bottas, will also be participating at the Saudi Grand Prix

JEDDAH: The inaugural edition of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix is set to be held in Jeddah from Dec. 3. 

Mika Häkkinen, a two-time Formula One champion and founder of the INZDR app, is in Jeddah to create awareness about the importance of maintaining a healthy diet.

The Finnish racing legend has been telling locals that “consuming a healthy, nutrient-rich diet is key to performing at your peak when you are an athlete and in general for living a radiant life.” 

Danube, the supermarket and hypermarket chain in Saudi Arabia, hosted a “Racing Kitchen” event at Red Sea Mall in Jeddah with Häkkinen.

The “Racing Kitchen,” hosted on the Danube app during the F1 season, features an array of nourishing recipes that could be part of a nutrient-rich diet to inspire an optimized lifestyle. 

Häkkinen, who is thrilled to be in Saudi Arabia, said: “Whenever I used to race, I always wanted to speak to the people of that country, understand their culture. Even though I am a two-time F1 world champion and the treatment will be special, I still wanted to understand how they will treat me. I have found Saudis to be very kind, nice, and polite. It reflects their parents’ and grandparents’ upbringing. With this kind of behavior, I have made lots of friends.” 

Through the INZDR app, the former Finnish driver said that F1 enthusiasts “can also learn more about the sport and get access to exclusive content from their favourite drivers.”

Two Finnish drivers, Kimi Räikkönen and Valtteri Bottas, will also be participating at the Saudi Grand Prix. Commenting on who has a high chance of winning, Häkkinen said: “Kimi will retire at the end of this year. He had a great career in his life and he did fantastic work. I admire his energy which he gave to F1. Talking about the general speed, I do not think they have a really good chance but with F1 you never know what will happen. Speaking of Valterri Battos, he can be really good in the Saudi Grand Prix and may have a chance to win it too.”


Prince Khaled Al-Faisal briefed on the completed preparations for Saudi F1 race

Prince Khaled Al-Faisal briefed on the completed preparations for Saudi F1 race
Updated 01 December 2021

Prince Khaled Al-Faisal briefed on the completed preparations for Saudi F1 race

Prince Khaled Al-Faisal briefed on the completed preparations for Saudi F1 race
  • The Jeddah Corniche is the starting and ending point for the race

Makkah Gov. Prince Khaled Al-Faisal, adviser to King Salman, was briefed on the latest preparations for the Saudi Formula One race, which will be hosted by Jeddah Corniche from Dec. 3 to 5.

Al-Faisal listened to an explanation by Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al-Faisal about the 27-turn, 6,175-meter-long circuit, the second-longest track in F1 history. 

Prince Khalid, who is the president of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation, confirmed the completion of the preparations for hosting the F1 race.

The Jeddah Corniche is the starting and ending point for the race. Prince Khalid expressed his pride that the Kingdom is among the 23 countries hosting this great sporting event.

He also praised the Saudi leadership’s great support for sports, which made the Kingdom a major destination for global sporting events. He thanked Prince Khaled for his guidance and support to make this event a huge success.


Why clubs will welcome biggest shakeup in decades for AFC Champions League

Why clubs will welcome biggest shakeup in decades for AFC Champions League
Updated 01 December 2021

Why clubs will welcome biggest shakeup in decades for AFC Champions League

Why clubs will welcome biggest shakeup in decades for AFC Champions League
  • Continent’s premier club competition set for autumn-spring schedule switch in 2023, increase in number of foreigners allowed in squads

RIYADH: Only days after Al-Hilal may have just made history by winning a record fourth Asian title, the AFC Champions League’s future is set to look very different as there are some significant changes already in place for the 2023 edition.

The Asian Football Confederation, which operates the competition that expanded from 32 to 40 teams this year, is set to officially approve a shift in the tournament’s calendar for the first time in almost two decades.

Instead of running from spring to autumn, the event will soon mirror its European equivalent by switching to an autumn start and a spring finish.

On Nov. 21, AFC President Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al-Khalifa, said: “I am pleased to note that the AFC competitions continue to grow. There will be changes to the rules on foreign players, as well as to our competitions calendar. These are all part of the strategy to improve our players, clubs, and national teams on the world stage.”

The calendar change, expected to be rolled out in 2023, will return the tournament to its original schedule that was mapped out 20 years ago.

“The AFC Champions League was launched in 2002 and the inaugural season kicked off in August 2002 with its scheduled completion by May 2003,” the AFC said in a statement on Tuesday, adding that the outbreak of the respiratory illness SARS in Asia forced a postponement.

“Following this setback, the competition was relaunched in 2004 and the calendar was changed to February to December 2004, while the AFC Cup in 2004 took place from February to November 2004, leading to an adoption of the spring-autumn season,” the AFC said.

Ever since that initial change, there have been repeated requests for another look at the schedules and with a recent feasibility study being well-received, it all means that the changes will be agreed upon next year.

East Asian nations are especially happy with the change. Under the present format, the knockout stages come toward the end of the busy domestic seasons in China, South Korea, and Japan. Had Korean powerhouse Ulsan Hyundai won their semi-final against Pohang Steelers in October, the defending Asian champions would have had to travel to Riyadh for the final during the climax of the K-League title race and at the end of a grueling year.

A spring final would mean fresher eastern squads who would be just two or three months into their seasons as opposed to eight or nine.

For clubs in West Asia, it may present more of a challenge as domestic campaigns reach their zenith around the same time.

Until the final, the tournament is split into two geographic zones, east and west. That means that for much of the schedule, teams in each zone are in similar positions but the timing of the final, especially if it returns to a two-legged affair, tends to favor teams from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, and elsewhere as they are just two or three months into their domestic seasons and approaching peak condition.

There are reasons for a switch that should benefit all. The AFC is confident that aligning the Asian calendar with much of the rest of the world, especially Europe, will make a difference financially, “for AFC Champions League and AFC Cup matches in terms of TV audiences and media interest with respect to the calendar structures of UEFA club competitions and European leagues.”

There are other changes that Saudi Arabia have pushed through. As reported by Arab News in November, the proposal from Riyadh to increase the number of foreign players that are allowed to play in the tournament has been accepted, only the precise format remains to be discussed.

At present, each team in the continental competition can register just four foreign players in its squad under the 3 plus 1 rule which means three imports can come from anywhere in the world and one from a fellow Asian nation. With 11 leagues around the continent allowing more imports for their domestic competition — including the Saudi Professional League, which has a full quota of seven — the AFC rule has increasingly become a point of contention.

“The current 3 plus 1 foreign player rule under which a club can field a maximum of four international players at any given point in time during a match is set to make way for a more augmented combination,” the AFC said.

“The proposed new combinations — 4 plus 2, 5 plus 1, or 5 plus 2 — have received wide support from both the AFC competitions committee and the AFC technical committee, with the decision imminent in early 2022 for implementation from 2023 onwards.” The changes will be confirmed early next year.

For major countries in Asian football, a revamped AFC Champions League should benefit all and help lift the tournament to the next level.