Start of regional league ushers in new era for women’s football in Saudi Arabia

Start of regional league ushers in new era for women’s football in Saudi Arabia
Sixteen teams will take part in the first phase, with games played mostly in the capital Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam. (AFP)
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Updated 21 November 2021

Start of regional league ushers in new era for women’s football in Saudi Arabia

Start of regional league ushers in new era for women’s football in Saudi Arabia
  • New 16-team competition across the Western, Central and Eastern regions will be launched by Saudi Arabian Football Federation on Monday

Monday is set to be a landmark day for women’s sports in Saudi Arabia. In particular, for women’s football. This is the day that the Saudi Arabian Football Federation’s new Regional Football League kicks off across the nation.

Sixteen teams will take part in the first phase, with games played mostly in the capital Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam.

The league is split, as its name suggests, into three regions: A six-team Central region, a six-team Western region, and a four-team Eastern region.

Matches will be played in a round-robin, home-and-away format, with the winner of each group declared champion of their region.

In addition, the top three teams in the Central and Western regions, as well as the top two from the Eastern region, will progress to the national championships.

There, the eight qualified teams will play in a knockout competition at the Kingdom Final Championship, which is due to be held early next year in Jeddah, with the winning team set to pocket $133,000.

This is wonderful news for the progress of the women’s game in the Kingdom, and we must also not forget the Saudi Sports For All Women’s Football League, which was contested last year.

But it is not the prize money or the format of the new regional competition that has captured my fascination. I am more focused on the speed and efficiency with which the SAFF has implemented a plan first devised as recently as 2017. It is to be congratulated for making this milestone in Saudi women’s football a reality.

To give an idea of the rate of progress, Brazil, despite already having nine regional women’s football tournaments, only last April kicked off its first national championship — curiously with 16 teams, the same number that now start the Saudi championship.

Once the decision was put in place in accordance with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, the SAFF acted quickly and well.

In addition to the setting up of the new leagues, the federation has hired Monika Staab to lead the fledgling Saudi Arabian national women’s team. The German coach previously spent time in Riyadh in December 2020, when she was invited to the Kingdom to lead a C-license coaching course for women.

Staab’s career as a player saw her go to France and England before returning to Germany and to the women’s Bundesliga. She then became a coach, working for the German football federation.

Her work has taken her to more than 80 countries over the past four decades, including Bahrain, Iran and Qatar.

Hiring Staab was no doubt a shrewd move by the SAFF, as she is not only a leading football coach but also has experience working in Muslim countries.

(AFP)

There have already been reports of how Staab marveled at the Saudi women’s passion and love for the game after she visited clubs in Dammam, Riyadh and Jeddah. Many players had to drive for more than two hours to train and then two hours back home again. All these women are either working or studying and none of them are being paid to play. They just have a real passion for football.

There will now be opportunities that will allow young players to start their training early and provide more career options in football, both at club and international level.

There are reasons to be optimistic for the Kingdom’s national women’s team. Staab held the first training session with the squad on Nov. 2. After 700 players signed up for the trials, the coach eventually reduced the number to 30.

In February, the national team is slated to play its first international match, against the Maldives, and the long-term vision is to qualify for the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 10 years’ time.

The SAFF has also taken a significant step by hiring 12 top Asian female referees, not only to referee the women’s football league matches, but also to train local girls who wish to go down that path.

At a time when more and more girls and women from all corners of the globe are discovering the joys of playing football, Saudi women will not be far behind.

Three years after women were first allowed into football stadiums, Saudi Arabia, through its football federation, has taken a major step forward with the creation of the Regional Football League. More importantly, it is creating the conditions for it to be a sustainable project in the future.

The achievement is nothing short of remarkable because, in order to fulfill this task at the national level, the SAFF did not have to implement extraordinary measures, such as recently done by some South American countries, to create regulations that forced their affiliated clubs to form professional women’s teams on par with those for men.

When there was a will to advance the women’s game, a way was found. Congratulations to the SAFF on a job well done.


Djokovic breezes through to third round as Murray exits Wimbledon

Djokovic breezes through to third round as Murray exits Wimbledon
Updated 6 sec ago

Djokovic breezes through to third round as Murray exits Wimbledon

Djokovic breezes through to third round as Murray exits Wimbledon
  • Top seed Djokovic brushed aside 79th-ranked Thanasi Kokkinakis of Australia and will face Serbian compatriot Miomir Kecmanovic for a last-16 place
  • Former world No. 1 Murray, the 2013 and 2016 champion, went down to big-serving John Isner in his second-round clash

LONDON: Defending champion Novak Djokovic reached the Wimbledon third round for the 16th time on Wednesday as career-long rival Andy Murray suffered his earliest-ever exit from the All England Club.

Top seed Djokovic brushed aside 79th-ranked Thanasi Kokkinakis of Australia 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 and will face Serbian compatriot Miomir Kecmanovic for a last-16 place.

“I’m very happy with my performance. I started very well, solid from the back of the court,” said Djokovic, who is looking to join Pete Sampras as a seven-time Wimbledon champion.

“I made him work for every point and worked him around the court,” added the 20-time major winner.

Kokkinakis had likened Djokovic to a “brick wall” before the match.

“It was one-way traffic. I got chopped today,” said the 26-year-old Australian after his Center Court torment.

Former world No. 1 Murray, the 2013 and 2016 champion, went down 6-4, 7-6 (7/4), 6-7 (3/7), 6-4 to big-serving John Isner in his second-round clash.

Murray, now 52 in the rankings, failed to break serve once against 2018 semifinalist Isner, who unleashed 36 aces and 82 winners in total.

“He didn’t give me lots of chances,” said Murray, whose previous earliest exits came in the third round in 2005 and 2021.

“My game was in a good place. I felt good on the court, just couldn’t get the win.”

Isner, 37, was gracious in the aftermath of his first win in nine meetings against the Briton.

“I am most definitely not a better tennis player than Andy Murray. I might have been a little bit better than him today,” said the American.

Isner also took his career aces total to 13,724 to sit just four behind the record held by Ivo Karlovic.

Third seed and French Open runner-up Casper Ruud, who was scheduled to face Djokovic in the semifinals, was knocked out by 112th-ranked Ugo Humbert, 3-6, 6-2, 7-5, 6-4.

But Spanish teenager Carlos Alcaraz stayed on course to meet the six-time champion in the last eight by reaching the third round for the first time.

Alcaraz, just 19, triumphed over Tallon Griekspoor of the Netherlands, 6-4, 7-6 (7/0), 6-3.

The flamboyant Spanish shotmaker goes on to face Germany’s Oscar Otte for a place in the last 16.

Otte needed just 15 minutes to reach the third round when American opponent Christian Harrison retired injured at 3-1 down in their second-round tie.

Alcaraz’s compatriot Alejandro Davidovich Fokina suffered a controversial exit at the hands of Jiri Vesely.

At match point down in the final set tiebreak, Davidovich Fokina hit a ball out of the court, was penalized a point and lost the tie.

“I don’t agree with it. That’s crazy... what a lousy way to end it,” US tennis great John McEnroe told ESPN.

In the women’s tournament, second seed Anett Kontaveit, ninth seed and former champion Garbine Muguruza as well as 10th-seeded US Open winner Emma Raducanu all exited.

Kontaveit lost 6-4, 6-0 to Germany’s Julie Niemeier as the Estonian endured another Grand Slam to forget.

Kontaveit has made the quarterfinals of a major just once in 29 attempts.

Muguruza, the 2017 champion, lost her delayed first-round clash 6-4, 6-0 to Belgium’s Greet Minnen.

Raducanu, bidding to become Britain’s first female champion at the All England Club in 45 years, was beaten 6-3, 6-3 by France’s 55th-ranked Caroline Garcia.

“I really enjoyed playing on Center Court, it was my first time and very special,” said Garcia, who fired 25 winners past the British teenager.

There were no such dramas for third seed Ons Jabeur or fifth-seeded Maria Sakkari, who went through to the last 32 in straight sets.

Lesia Tsurenko came out on top in three sets over Ukrainian compatriot Anhelina Kalinina to make the third round for the second time.

Tsurenko, ranked at 101, proudly wore a ribbon in the colors of Ukraine on her shirt.

“It was a big court. Two Ukrainian players but a lot of people were watching us. We felt amazing support,” said Tsurenko after her 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 win.

“Today on the way from hotel to the club, we got a driver,” she added. “She has taken two people from Ukraine into her house.

“I think it’s amazing when people help Ukrainians so much.”


Ronaldo lawyers seek $626K from woman’s lawyer in Vegas case

Ronaldo lawyers seek $626K from woman’s lawyer in Vegas case
Updated 30 June 2022

Ronaldo lawyers seek $626K from woman’s lawyer in Vegas case

Ronaldo lawyers seek $626K from woman’s lawyer in Vegas case
  • In a bluntly worded court document, Ronaldo’s attorney, Peter Christiansen, asks US District Judge Jennifer Dorsey to make the woman’s attorney, Leslie Mark Stovall, personally responsible for the amount
  • Dorsey on June 10 kicked the case out of court to punish Stovall for “bad-faith conduct” and the improper use of leaked and stolen documents to pursue the case

LAS VEGAS: Cristiano Ronaldo is asking a US judge to order a woman’s lawyer to pay more than $626,000 for losing a lawsuit to get the international soccer star to pay millions of dollars after claiming in 2018 that Ronaldo raped the woman in Las Vegas nearly a decade earlier.

In a bluntly worded court document, Ronaldo’s attorney, Peter Christiansen, asks US District Judge Jennifer Dorsey to make the woman’s attorney, Leslie Mark Stovall, personally responsible for the amount.

Stovall did not immediately respond Wednesday to telephone and email messages. Text messages to associate Larissa Drohobyczer were not answered. They are due to file an answer with the court by July 8.

Dorsey on June 10 kicked the case out of court to punish Stovall for “bad-faith conduct” and the improper use of leaked and stolen documents to pursue the case.

Stovall “crossed the border of ethical behavior before he filed this action, and his disregard for the rules of this court has continued unabated,” the judge found.

Dorsey said in her 42-page order that dismissing plaintiff Kathryn Mayorga’s case outright with no option to file it again was a severe sanction, but said Ronaldo had been harmed by Stovall’s conduct.

The Associated Press generally does not name people who say they are victims of sexual assault, but Mayorga gave consent through Stovall and Drohobyczer to make her name public.

The bid for court costs and fees for Ronaldo’s attorneys, filed Friday, dwarfs the $375,000 hush-money payment that Mayorga received in 2010 to sign a confidentiality agreement and drop a criminal complaint alleging she was sexually assaulted.

“Given Stovall’s abuses and flagrant misconduct, Stovall should be made personally responsible for ensuring Ronaldo is reimbursed for having to defend against his vexatious and bad faith conduct,” Christiansen’s request for reimbursement said. He tallied attorney fees at between $350 and $850 per hour for nearly 1,200 hours of work.

Mayorga’s civil lawsuit — filed in 2018 in state court and moved in 2019 to federal court — eventually sought more than $25 million in damages, plus attorney fees for Stovall.

It alleged that Ronaldo or his associates violated the confidentiality agreement before a German news outlet, Der Spiegel, published an article in April 2017 titled “Cristiano Ronaldo’s Secret” based on documents obtained from what court filings term “whistleblower portal Football Leaks.”

Ronaldo’s attorneys accuse Stovall of obtaining stolen material containing privileged attorney-client communication and then trying repeatedly to make them pubic by attaching them to court filings.

A second court filing on Friday asks Dorsey to seal part of the court record containing confidential documents.

Mayorga is a former model and teacher who lives in the Las Vegas area. Her lawsuit said she met Ronaldo at a nightclub and went with him and other people to his hotel suite, where she alleged he assaulted her in a bedroom. She was 25 at the time. He was 24.

Ronaldo’s legal team does not dispute Ronaldo met Mayorga and they had sex in June 2009, but maintained it was consensual.

Ronaldo, now 37, is one of the most highly paid and recognizable sports stars in the world. He plays for the English Premier League club Manchester United and has captained the national team of his home country, Portugal. He spent several recent years playing in Italy for the Turin-based club Juventus.

Las Vegas police reopened their rape investigation after Mayorga’s lawsuit was filed in 2018, but Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson decided in 2019 not to pursue criminal charges. He said too much time had passed to prove the case to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.

Stovall maintained that Mayorga didn’t break the hush-money settlement. Her lawsuit sought to void it, accusing Ronaldo and reputation-protection “fixers” of conspiracy, defamation, breach of contract, coercion and fraud.

The Las Vegas police report compiled about Ronaldo after Mayorga filed her lawsuit in 2018 might still become public under a public records lawsuit The New York Times filed in Nevada state court.

A US magistrate judge in Las Vegas said in March that a protective order that Dorsey imposed to prevent release of the 2010 agreement does not prevent the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department from releasing its file.

Attorney Margaret McLetchie, representing the newspaper, did not immediately respond to messages about that case.


Joshua ‘desperate’ to become world heavyweight champ again in his rematch against Usyk in Saudi Arabia

Joshua ‘desperate’ to become world heavyweight champ again in his rematch against Usyk in Saudi Arabia
Updated 30 June 2022

Joshua ‘desperate’ to become world heavyweight champ again in his rematch against Usyk in Saudi Arabia

Joshua ‘desperate’ to become world heavyweight champ again in his rematch against Usyk in Saudi Arabia
  • Usyk will be defending the IBF, WBA and WBO titles he claimed from Joshua in beating the British fighter at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in September
  • While this will be Joshua’s second fight in Saudi Arabia — he avenged his only other defeat against Andy Ruiz Jr. in 2019 in Diriyah with a points win — it will be Usyk’s first in the country

LONDON: Anthony Joshua admitted he is “definitely desperate” to become world heavyweight champion again when he faces Oleksandr Usyk in their rematch in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on Aug. 20.

Usyk will be defending the IBF, WBA and WBO titles he claimed from Joshua in beating the British fighter at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in September. Joshua (24-2, 22 KOs) was outclassed by his Ukrainian rival, who defied disadvantages in height, reach and weight to win in London by unanimous decision.

“What happened then is in the past, I don’t really live in the past, I’m just present,” the 32-year-old Joshua told a news conference in London on Wednesday. “I’ll be looking to be competing round-by-round and if I follow my As, Bs and Cs, it should lead me to KO.”

The former two-time world heavyweight champion called for “Less talk, more action. I’m not a comedian, I’m not someone who likes big speeches.

“Let me get in there and do my job, that’s my priority. I’m definitely hungry, definitely desperate but how I perform will speak volumes to the masses.”

The 35-year-old Usyk, a former undisputed world cruiserweight champion, has won all 19 of his professional contests and wore a blue-and-yellow T-shirt with the message ‘Colors of Freedom’ in reference to his native Ukraine and Russia’s invasion of the country.

He helped with the war effort against Russia, initially putting in jeopardy a second fight against Joshua, before being given special permission to defend his world titles.

While this will be Joshua’s second fight in Saudi Arabia — he avenged his only other defeat against Andy Ruiz Jr. in 2019 in Diriyah with a points win — it will be Usyk’s first in the country.

Usyk said money was not the driving factor in his decision to fight in Saudi Arabia.

“I’m not fighting for money or the recognition,” Usyk said. “The only thing I’m on my way to is to save my soul. Everything else that is happening to me is just life.”


Jabeur beats Kawa to reach Wimbledon 3rd round

Jabeur beats Kawa to reach Wimbledon 3rd round
Updated 29 June 2022

Jabeur beats Kawa to reach Wimbledon 3rd round

Jabeur beats Kawa to reach Wimbledon 3rd round
  • The Tunisian, 27, who won the Berlin grass-court title earlier this month, broke twice in the first set before steamrollering her opponent in the second

LONDON: Third seed Ons Jabeur eased through to the third round of Wimbledon on Wednesday, beating Polish qualifier Katarzyna Kawa 6-4, 6-0.
The Tunisian, 27, who won the Berlin grass-court title earlier this month, broke twice in the first set before steamrollering her opponent in the second.
Jabeur will play unseeded Frenchwoman Diane Parry, who beat Japanese qualifier Mai Hontama, in the last 32.


Qatar says World Cup fans seeking rooms have ‘a lot of options’

Qatar says World Cup fans seeking rooms have ‘a lot of options’
Updated 29 June 2022

Qatar says World Cup fans seeking rooms have ‘a lot of options’

Qatar says World Cup fans seeking rooms have ‘a lot of options’
  • Prices for accommodation range from 300 Qatari rials to several thousand dollars per night

DOHA: Qatar said on Tuesday that World Cup fans have “a lot of options” with more than 100,000 rooms currently available and tens of thousands more expected by the tournament’s kickoff.
Some football supporters have expressed concern that they have been unable to find accommodation in line with their budget for the World Cup, which runs from November 21 to December 18.
Prices range from 300 Qatari rials (just over $80) to several thousand dollars per night.
Qatar has so far taken more than 25,000 bookings, said Omar Al-Jaber, the official in charge of accommodation for the tournament’s organizing committee, specifying that he was taking about “bookings, not rooms or nights.”
“If you go through our website, you will find a lot of options,” he told reporters on a tour of an available apartment in Doha.
“And if you don’t find it today, you need to check tomorrow or after tomorrow... because... we add more inventory to this portal.
“More than 100,000 rooms (are) available as of today,” he said. “If we go to November, maybe we’ll reach more than 130,000 rooms or 140,000 rooms.”
Supporters normally find accommodation themselves for such tournaments.
But Qatar — set to host the most geographically concentrated World Cup in history and with limited hotel capacity — is seeking to channel supporters through an official platform that is reserved for ticket holders and managed by the tournament’s organizers.
Eighty-five percent of accommodation — whether permanent or temporary — is now complete and the remainder will be finished by a “deadline” of end-August, according to Jaber.
The country will be closed to visitors without match tickets during the course of the tournament, Jaber said.
As of Tuesday, the US, Mexico, United Kingdom, Argentina and India accounted for some of the biggest sources of reservations.