New Covid variant throws sport in South Africa into turmoil

New Covid variant throws sport in South Africa into turmoil
Passengers line up on Friday at OR Tambo’s airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, where sports events were thrown into turmoil after the announcement on travel bans following the discovery of a new strain of Covid-19.(AP)
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Updated 26 November 2021

New Covid variant throws sport in South Africa into turmoil

New Covid variant throws sport in South Africa into turmoil
  • Two rounds of matches in the United Rugby Championship were postponed
  • Golfers playing in a professional tournament withdrew in order to fly home, while a Netherlands cricket tour of South Africa was in jeopardy

JOHANNESBURG: Sports events in South Africa were thrown into turmoil on Friday following the announcement on travel bans following the discovery of a new strain of coronavirus in the country.
Two rounds of matches in the United Rugby Championship were postponed, golfers playing in a professional tournament withdrew in order to fly home, while a Netherlands cricket tour of South Africa was in jeopardy.
The British government announced on Thursday that South Africa had returned to the ‘red list’ because of the spread of the new strain of the virus, B.1.1.529. Travelers from South Africa, including returning nationals, will face a mandatory two-week quarantine period, while flights have been halted.
This was followed on Friday by a travel ban by several European Union countries.
Two Welsh rugby teams, the Cardiff Blues and the Llanelli Scarlets, announced that they were withdrawing from scheduled fixtures in the United Rugby Championship and were making plans to return home as soon as possible.
The United Rugby Championship (URC) later announced that all four matches scheduled for South Africa on Saturday and Sunday had been postponed, as well as fixtures for the following weekend.
Munster from Ireland and Italian team Zebre had also arrived in South Africa and the URC said arrangements were being made for all four of the visiting teams to return home as soon as possible.
Sixteen British players withdrew after the first round of the Joburg Open golf tournament, the first event of the new DP World Tour, and were expected to fly back to Britain to avoid having to spend time in quarantine.
A spokesman for the Sunshine Tour, which co-sanctions the South African leg of the World Tour, said officials of the two bodies were meeting to discuss the latest developments and expected to issue a statement later on Friday.
Two further tournaments, the South African Open and the Alfred Dunhill Championships, are scheduled in South Africa over the next two weeks and the spokesman said at this stage the tournaments were due to go ahead.
The Netherlands cricket team played the first of three scheduled one-day internationals against South Africa in Centurion on Friday but a joint statement from the boards of the two countries indicated that the touring team would return home as soon as possible.
But the fate of the tour had not yet been decided because it was “highly unlikely that the visiting team will be able to fly out of South Africa over the weekend.”
This opened the possibility that the planned second match, at the same venue on Sunday, might take place.
The third match was scheduled for Johannesburg on Wednesday.
The statement said a final decision on the remaining matches was expected “in the next 24 to 48 hours.”


Diriyah E-Prix two-time winner Sam Bird sets his sights on more Formula E success in Riyadh

Diriyah E-Prix two-time winner Sam Bird sets his sights on more Formula E success in Riyadh
Updated 22 sec ago

Diriyah E-Prix two-time winner Sam Bird sets his sights on more Formula E success in Riyadh

Diriyah E-Prix two-time winner Sam Bird sets his sights on more Formula E success in Riyadh
  • The 35-year-old British driver won last year under the lights on his debut for Jaguar and is the only driver to win multiple times in Saudi Arabia
  • Sam Bird: Jaguar TCS Racing are going to be at the sharp end – I firmly predict that – I think that we’re going into it as strong as we possibly can

RIYADH: British driver Sam Bird says he is “chomping at the bit” for the 2022 ABB FIA Formula E season to get underway in Saudi Arabia, ahead of the season-opening Diriyah E-Prix on Friday and Saturday.

Bird’s Jaguar TCS Racing debut ended in glory on the streets of Diriyah for the second time of his career in 2021 — to go with his 2019 victory with Virgin-Audi — making the 35-year-old the only driver to claim multiple E-Prix wins in Saudi Arabia.

And the Briton is hoping to replicate those previous successes when the lights go out on the first two races of the year at Diriyah’s double-header under lights.

“I’m coming into season 8 with a lot of excitement,” Bird said. “I’m chomping at the bit to get started. I think Jaguar TCS Racing have done a great job over the break to ensure we’re in the best possible position going forward into the season. The plan is to do what I’ve been able to do in the past two seasons in Diriyah, which is to start with a win.”

Considering Bird’s previous in Saudi Arabia, it is little wonder that he finds Diriyah’s street circuit — that last February became the first ABB FIA Formula E E-Prix to be held under lights — a joy to drive.

“The Diriyah circuit itself is in my opinion one of, if not the most fun to drive. It’s really quite quick for Formula E; fast and flowing the middle sector; you’re never in a straight line, always changing direction,” he said.

“It’s really cool to drive especially when you get it right but if you get it wrong it can really bite you because when it’s one corner after another, if you get the first one wrong you’ll get the next one wrong and so on and so on and it’s like a concertina effect. Also, racing at night is a really cool spectacle, it doesn’t really change too much for me but certainly on the TV it looks great.”

Bird, who also has a soft spot for the circuit in New York, revealed to Arab News some of the more challenging tracks he has experienced.

“I’ve never won in Berlin. I’ve been on the podium in Berlin, but I’ve never won there,” he said. “I’ve never won in Mexico although last time we were there I should have done better, in Mexico City. I crashed out of second with two laps to go. My teammate Mitch Evans actually won that race. I was with a different team back then.

“There’s a couple of tracks that maybe I haven’t done well at historically, but it’s not that I can’t be quick there,” Bird added. “I know that I can be quick there and I believe that Jaguar TCS will give me the tools in order to be quick at those places.”

Part of an ABB FIA Formula E initiative, Bird visited the Kingdom in December to share his knowledge with local drivers and found it an enriching experience.

“It was great to meet some young aspiring drivers,” he said. “What I would say to them is if you’ve got a dream, if you aspire to be anything in life, if you put your heart and soul into it and never give up, you can achieve whatever you want in life.”

There are few drivers in the sport who could offer more valuable insight than the only man in history to win an E-Prix in all seven of the sport’s previous editions.

No other driver has more races than Bird’s 84 under their belt in ABB FIA Formula E, while the Briton sits third on the all-time list for most E-Prix wins, with 11. He has also accumulated the fourth-highest amount of points (690) in ABB FIA Formula E history, and ranks fourth for most podiums (22) and fastest laps (six).

The only thing missing is a first ABB FIA Formula E championship, with Bird finishing sixth in the standings last year and his Jaguar team missing out on the teams’ title by just four points in one of the closest run championships in history.

But Bird goes into his second year with Jaguar TCS Racing confident that he, teammate Mitch Evans and their team will be at the business end of both championships come the end of the season.

“Jaguar TCS Racing are going to be at the sharp end,” Bird said. “I firmly predict that. I think that we’re going into it as strong as we possibly can. We have an incredibly determined team and a fast Jaguar I-TYPE 5 race car and I’m confident that we can get some great results.”


X44 retains Loeb, Gutierrez for championship challenge in Extreme E Season 2

X44 retains Loeb, Gutierrez for championship challenge in Extreme E Season 2
Updated 36 min 21 sec ago

X44 retains Loeb, Gutierrez for championship challenge in Extreme E Season 2

X44 retains Loeb, Gutierrez for championship challenge in Extreme E Season 2
  • Duo narrowly missed Season 1 title in electric SUV series while driving for team founded by Lewis Hamilton

LONDON: Extreme E Season One runners-up X44 have retained their driver lineup for the forthcoming campaign, with Sebastien Loeb and Cristina Gutierrez back behind the wheel for the team founded by seven-time Formula One World Champion Lewis Hamilton.

Loeb and Gutierrez were narrowly denied championship honors in the inaugural season of Extreme E, when victory at the Jurassic X Prix in December saw them finish level on points with overall winners Rosberg X Racing, but lose out after a countback of victories (three to one).

X44 finished as the fastest qualifier at all five X Prix raced in 2021, and they will be determined to maintain that imperious form on course as they bid for title glory in the second season of Extreme E, which begins next month in NEOM, Saudi Arabia, from Feb. 19.

Loeb is one of the greatest rally drivers of all time with a record nine World Rally Championships and 80 race wins to his name. His 26-year career in motor sports has seen him achieve podium finishes in races as varied as the Dakar Rally, World Rallycross and 24 Hours of Le Mans.

He has also achieved three Race of Champions wins in which he competed against the world’s best racing and rally drivers. The Frenchman has already had a busy start to 2022, finishing second overall in the Dakar Rally before taking his 80th WRC win last weekend with victory in the season-opening Rallye Monte-Carlo.

“I’m very happy to be driving for X44 again in Season Two of Extreme E,” Loeb said. “Last year was very challenging for us. We had a lot of struggles with the car and some bad luck too, but we came top of qualifying at every race and finished the year with a win and level on championship points — so we are feeling optimistic!

“I think the other teams are very strong, but Cristina and I have shown that we know how to win races in some of the toughest terrains in the world, so we will give our all to secure more podiums. Our fans have been very supportive ever since our first race, so I hope we can repay them with a championship win in 2022.”

Gutierrez is a promising talent who is rewriting the rulebook for women racers. In addition to finishing the notoriously difficult Dakar Rally six times, she made history as the first woman to ever win the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies, the second to win a stage in the Dakar Rally (2021) and the third to stand on a podium in the Dakar Rally (2022). Gutierrez has all the hallmarks of a great driver, showing grit and a natural talent, and has had a huge passion for the sport since she started racing aged four.

“I’m so excited to be returning to race for X44. We came very close to winning the championship last year and now we’re even more motivated and excited to drive well and push to take first place in 2022,” she said.

“Since I first joined the team, I have learned so much and feel stronger and faster with every race, so I’m excited to get back in the car and show what I can do. I’m also looking forward to exploring the planet and learning more about the places where we are racing,” she added.

“By highlighting the climate change challenges faced by the remote environments where we race, I hope to further educate myself on what we can do to help.”


Cult Irish heroine preparing for high profile run at Saudi Cup meeting

Cult Irish heroine preparing for high profile run at Saudi Cup meeting
Updated 41 min 8 sec ago

Cult Irish heroine preparing for high profile run at Saudi Cup meeting

Cult Irish heroine preparing for high profile run at Saudi Cup meeting
  • Princess Zoe to have “mini race” before tackling $2.5 million Longines Red Sea Turf Handicap in Riyadh

Tony Mullins will give star stayer Princess Zoe a novel “mini race” in preparation for the $2.5 million Longines Red Sea Turf Handicap at next month’s Saudi Cup meeting.

The hugely popular Irish mare will gallop at Leopardstown after the track’s Dublin Racing Festival jumps fixture on the first weekend in February.

She will then have three weeks before running in the 3000m contest – the longest race at the world’s richest race meeting – on Saturday, Feb. 26. The Group 3 handicap is one of the supporting prizes on the Saudi Cup card at King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Riyadh.

“Everything is going according to plan. I don’t want Saudi to be her first run of the season so I’m inventing my own little mini race. It’ll only be two or three horses, but it will give her that feel that she’s got a run under her belt,” Mullins said.

“We’ll be going genuine racing pace and it depends on the ground how far we’ll go. If there’s a good cut in the ground, we’ll go 1m 4f (2400m) and if it’s a bit quicker we might go 1m 6f (2800m).

 “There was nowhere for her to run because we have not got a winter programme suitable for horses of her calibre here in Ireland. We’re treating this as a run to put her spot on for Saudi,” he added.

Since joining Mullins from Germany a couple of years ago, Princess Zoe has been transformed from a low-grade handicapper into one of Europe’s best stayers.

She completed a stunning five-timer in 2020 when landing her first Group 1 success in the Prix du Cadran at Longchamp on Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe weekend.

Last season she put up the best performance of her career when finishing second behind Subjectivist in the Group 1 Gold Cup at Royal Ascot. The defence of her Prix du Cadran crown in early October did not go to plan but she returned lame after finishing only fifth behind Trueshan.

Mullins said: “We were always worried about fast ground, but she seemed to handle it very well in Royal Ascot. The minute that happened I said: “Saudi is the place I want to go”.

“In our opinion the Saudi Cup is the new go-to race meeting of the year. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t the prize money.

“I’ve only seen videos of the track in Riyadh – I haven’t actually stepped out on it. It looks like a beautiful track, albeit a little bit sharp for staying horses. Maybe that will suit her – I certainly don’t see any reason why the track won’t.

Despite failing to win in five runs last season, Mullins said, the now 7-year-old grey mare performed better than she had done the previous year. He’s confident she has improved again over the winter months.

“I keep saying this but I think she’s actually a better mare again this time round, which is unbelievable at her age,” he said.

Princess Zoe has developed a cult following during her rise through the ranks. Despite having competition from some of the world’s best for the affections of the racing public, she is one of the most popular horses in Ireland and Mullins realises how important she is for the horse-loving nation.

He said: “I think Irish people like to see the underdog come up and take on the big boys. She’s done it and we’ve done it – both of us together. She’s a very pretty mare and grey, I don’t know what it is but they love her as much as I do.

“We’ve had a lot of nice winners in 30 years of training, but Princess Zoe is in a different stratosphere.

“It’s nice to know that, if we get the material, we can do the job. It’s a good feeling,” he said. “There’s no team around here that could take on Man Utd but, in racing, you can always do it. It’s the one sport in the world that from humble places you can reach the top. It’s like a small kid from around here in Gowran getting to play against Ronaldo.

“We’ve been lucky and blessed to get a mare like Princess Zoe. We’re now right at the top table – I shake myself everyday thinking about it.”

Regular rider Joey Sheridan is another part of the Princess Zoe fairy tale. The 20-year-old apprentice jockey will be on board again as she attempts to add another chapter to her incredible story in the Longines Red Sea Turf Handicap. The race offers more than five times the prize money of last year’s Gold Cup at Royal Ascot.

Mullins said: “Joey is out there now so he’ll be riding in Riyadh in early February. He’s going to have a few rides out there before the big meeting, which is huge. I love that – having our jockey out there knowing the track.”


Tsitsipas storms into Australian Open semifinal

Tsitsipas storms into Australian Open semifinal
Updated 26 January 2022

Tsitsipas storms into Australian Open semifinal

Tsitsipas storms into Australian Open semifinal
  • Stefanos Tsitsipas stormed into his third Australian Open semifinal against either Daniil Medvedev or Felix Auger-Aliassime

MELBOURNE: Stefanos Tsitsipas stormed into his third Australian Open semifinal with a blistering straight-sets victory over Jannik Sinner on Wednesday.
The Greek fourth seed played his best tennis yet in the year’s opening major to romp past the 11th-seeded Italian 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 in 2hr 6min and into a semifinal against either Daniil Medvedev or Felix Auger-Aliassime.


29th Aramex Dubai to Muscat Offshore Sailing Race officially opens

29th Aramex Dubai to Muscat Offshore Sailing Race officially opens
Updated 26 January 2022

29th Aramex Dubai to Muscat Offshore Sailing Race officially opens

29th Aramex Dubai to Muscat Offshore Sailing Race officially opens
  • 20 teams are set to compete for up to five days at the region’s longest-running offshore race, a challenging 360 nautical mile course from Dubai to Muscat

DUBAI: Aramex and Dubai Offshore Sailing Club have announced the opening of the 29th Aramex Dubai to Muscat Offshore Sailing Race, which starts on Saturday, Feb. 5.

The Aramex D2M is the longest-running offshore race in the MENA region, covering more than 360 miles of challenging and adventurous sailing around the Musandam Peninsula.

Twenty teams of keelboats and multihulls are set to compete for five successive days, marking their start from Dubai Offshore Sailing Club. From there, the teams will sail across the Arabian Gulf to the deep waters of the Indian Ocean, passing through the famous Straits of Hormuz, with the final leg taking a southeastern route leading to Muscat, the capital city of Oman, before finishing at Marina Bandar Al-Rowdha, Muscat.

“This year’s Aramex Dubai to Muscat Offshore race marks its 29th edition, demonstrating the enduring appeal of competitive offshore racing among the region’s sailing community,” said David Worrall, head of the Aramex D2M race committee.

“With a challenging course over 360 miles and four days of continuous racing, the Aramex D2M offers a significant adventure challenge for all the sailors of all levels, from professionals and hardcore races to amateurs and more low-key cruisers.”

“Being a key event in the Asian Sailing Region race calendar, which stretches from Saudi Arabia to Japan, the Aramex D2M aims to contribute to the UAE’s ambitious vision to develop a sports community capable of achieving global success, in line with the proposed UAE Sports Sector Strategy 2032, and drive recognition of Dubai and the UAE as a world-class sailing destination,” Worrall said.

Organized by Dubai Offshore Sailing Club and the United Arab Emirates Sailing & Rowing Federation in association with the Oman Maritime Sports Committee, the event is recognized by the Asian Sailing Federation and Royal Ocean Sailing Club.

Andy Van der Velde, president at Aramex, said: “We are very pleased to be the title sponsor of one of the most prestigious sailing events in the sporting history of the UAE. At Aramex, we have high regard for discipline, collaboration and a strong drive to achieve excellence — core values that we will witness in action as the world’s top sailors compete in what is set to be one of the most challenging and enjoyable sailing races in the region. We look forward to welcoming sailors, their friends and families, sailing enthusiasts and visitors to this fantastic event.”