Greg Norman: Saudi Arabia can become a golfing powerhouse via my Asian Tour revamp

Exclusive Greg Norman: Saudi Arabia can become a golfing powerhouse via my Asian Tour revamp
Norman says $200m series could unearth new Tiger Woods in the Kingdom. (File/AFP)
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Updated 30 November 2021

Greg Norman: Saudi Arabia can become a golfing powerhouse via my Asian Tour revamp

Greg Norman: Saudi Arabia can become a golfing powerhouse via my Asian Tour revamp
  • Australian golf legend is spearheading Saudi-backed 10-year plan for 10 annual events from 2022
  • Norman says $200m series could unearth new Tiger Woods in the Kingdom

LONDON: When “the Great White Shark” —  aka Greg Norman —  sinks his teeth into something, success is guaranteed on and off the golf course.

The 66-year-old Australian won 91 professional tournaments, including two Open championships, during a distinguished career that saw him top the world rankings for 331 consecutive weeks.

The pioneering Norman has also become one of the world’s most successful athlete-turned-entrepreneurs, with his global corporation Great White Shark Enterprises boasting more than a dozen companies.

As such, Norman’s bold proclamation to Arab News that Saudi Arabia can become a golfing powerhouse under his tenacious tutelage should not dismissed lightly.

Norman last month was named CEO of LIV Golf Investments, a newly formed, Saudi-backed company that will bring a series of 10 new events to the Asian Tour in 2022. 

He is relishing the opportunity to channel “44 years of observation, knowledge and experience” into rousing golf’s “sleeping giant,” Asia, as part of a ground-breaking 10-year deal that will involve tournaments being staged across Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

“I first went (to Asia) in 1977 and I’ve been going back every year, except during the pandemic years, as a player, golf course designer or through my business acumen,” Norman said via a Zoom call.

“I’ve seen what golf has done there. I was the first guy to build an 18-hole grass course in Jordan. I was the first guy to do an exhibition match in mainland China. I was one of the first guys to play in the UAE as a professional, so I’ve seen the economic growth, as well as the growth of the game of golf, when it goes into new markets.”

Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, one of the world’s largest sovereign wealth funds with a diverse international investment portfolio, is the majority shareholder in Norman’s new company.

Saudi PIF has committed more than $200 million, one of the single biggest investments in the history of professional golf, to support playing opportunities and prize funds.

The series will add to the Asian Tour’s backbone of established events to comprise a 25-event season, expected to represent a record-breaking combined prize fund in 2022.

The announcement follows hard on the heels of the striking of a new 10-year partnership between the Asian Tour and Golf Saudi, the organizers of the Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers, which will see the event become the flagship tournament on the Asian Tour, featuring an increased prize fund of $5 million.

Norman is hugely impressed with Golf Saudi’s aggressive drive to promote golf as part of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 masterplan, which includes multiple golf courses being built in the country.

“Golf Saudi are passionate about the game of golf. If you have that much passion, vision and desire like Vision 2030, then you’re going to accelerate it. I love to see that,” he said.

“I don’t think I’ve seen an investment in the future of a country like what I’ve seen in Saudi Arabia.”

He added: “I’ve seen it in pockets around the world — Vietnam has done a great job in investing in its coastline and building high-end resorts and golf course developments there — but nothing to the magnitude of what Saudi Arabia has done. It’s a knock-on effect, a domino effect, and golf is paving the way for (prosperity). It’s an eye-opener to see how the country is investing into their people and opportunities from a health and wellness perspective, from a sporting perspective, from an education perspective,” he said.

“I would say the citizens of Saudi Arabia should be extremely excited about their future.”

Norman said: “Do I think Saudi Arabia could become a golfing powerhouse? Yes, I do.”

“If you’re going to invest dollars into building new facilities, it will allow people access to the game of golf,” he said. “Then you bolt on a lot of other things like academies and education and the hospitality side of things, so it’s actually a beautiful process to watch.” 

He added: “It’s not just one individual who benefits from it, it’s everybody.”

Norman said the schedule for the new series will be announced shortly, with all full-field events contributing toward the Order of Merit ranking.

He is confident of assembling a stellar line-up of world-renowned golfers, too, which is crucial to his overriding aim of inspiring the next generation.

World No.2 Dustin Johnson, who won the Saudi International in 2019 and 2020, is among those rumored to be interested, although Norman would not discuss potential participants.

“All I can tell you is every day I get a message, whether it’s through my WhatsApp, or through Signal or my IG account, from a player asking: ‘How can I get involved? We love it. Thank you, thank you, thank you’.”

He said: “Obviously creating the ability to bring professional golfers stimulates the interest among the younger generation, who would say: ‘Oh, wow, I want to win that golf tournament that John Smith just won.’ The interest level gets accelerated, the fan level gets accelerated, and the fanbase gets bigger, broader and stronger. The game of golf gets better because of that.

“When the fanbase gets elevated, then (people with) more corporate dollars want to come in because the fans are there. There’s this domino effect that happens from an economic standpoint and also a growth standpoint.”

He added: “Could Saudi Arabia produce the next Tiger Woods? The answer is ‘yes.’ But it’s a long-term ‘yes’ and a generational ‘yes.’,” he said.

“In the mid-1980s, there was a gentleman called Sven Tumba from Sweden, who was an ice hockey player who loved golf. He went on this mission to create an opportunity to grow grassroots golf in Sweden. Look where Sweden is today,. They’ve got a major championship winners.”

Norman is eager to seize every opportunity to expand the game of golf as part of his landmark initiative.

This includes potentially inviting women to participate, as they did at this month’s Aramco Saudi Ladies International for the second year. Building new golf courses across Asia would also be “a logical next step,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Asian Tour CEO and commissioner, Cho Minn Thant, recently suggested that television broadcasting innovations would be explored, including “putting a 3D camera on some of the players if they allow it, or new graphics.”

Norman agreed, adding: “I’m getting flooded with the best of the best from the technology side of life, from technology corporations, from 5G corporations. Golf is under a linear broadcaster, so there are so many ways to show the sport in so many different aspects with the technology that’s out there today and not being used.”

While Norman is fiercely determined to make the Asian Tour global golf’s premier series, he insists he does not want to antagonize the long-established PGA and European Tours.

“I’m a big believer that we can play in the same sandbox. Why can’t there be others who are creating a separate but similar opportunity for players as independent contractors to go and increase their market value?” he said.

“Competition is the best thing for everyone and everything on this planet,” Norman added. “You can go through everything we do in life and we need a competitor to push us to the next level.”

With a hungry Great White Shark on the prowl, Asian sports fans can expect to feast themselves on some spectacular golf in years to come.


Kyrgios hammers de Minaur for Montreal Masters quarter-final spot

Kyrgios hammers de Minaur for Montreal Masters quarter-final spot
Updated 59 min 54 sec ago

Kyrgios hammers de Minaur for Montreal Masters quarter-final spot

Kyrgios hammers de Minaur for Montreal Masters quarter-final spot
  • The Wimbledon runner-up dominated in the all-Aussie match, winning the opening set at a clip of three minutes per game in a contest which took just 64 minutes

MONTREAL: Nick Kyrgios crushed fellow Australian Alex de Minaur 6-2, 6-3 on Thursday to reach the quarterfinals of the ATP Montreal Masters.

Kyrgios carried on constant backchat with his player box, giving almost a running commentary of his state of mind on court in a display that seems second nature to him.

Nevertheless, the Wimbledon runner-up dominated in the all-Aussie match, winning the opening set at a clip of three minutes per game in a contest which took just 64 minutes.

The second-set pace was just as torrid, with Kyrgios breaking in the opening game.

He failed to serve out the win leading 5-2, missing on a drop shot and sending a forehand into the net.

But de Minaur lost the next game to love as Kyrgios prevailed in front of a packed-out stadium.

The winner of last week’s Washington 500 series title suffered his only recent loss to Novak Djokovic in the Wimbledon final. Victory means he’ll be in the top 30 next week, meaning a seeding at the US Open which starts on Aug. 29.

“That was my goal, so I didn’t have to play one of the (tennis) gods in the first round,” Kyrgios said.

“Today was a tough one. there was a lot on the line. I’m happy with the performance today.

“After beating (world number one Daniil) Medvedev yesterday, my confidence is incredibly high.

“It’s never easy to play a friend, but against Alex I went out and got the job done, I played how I had to play,” said Kyrgios who next faces eighth-seeded Hubert Hurkacz, a 6-7 (6/8), 6-2, 7-6 (7/3) winner over Albert Ramos.

Kyrgios has now won 15 of his last 16 singles matches, “The days are blending into each other,” he said. “It’s tiring but that’s the sport.”

He added: “I’m missing home a lot but there are only a few more tournaments until I can go home and see my family.”

Casper Ruud kept his title hopes alive as he dueled for more than three hours to overcome Roberto Bautista Agut 6-7 (4/7), 7-6 (7/4), 6-4.

The Norwegian, who at fourth is the highest seed still standing, said he regrouped during a 69-minute interruption as thunderstorms passed over the area after two sets had been completed.

He said time in the locker room was the perfect antidote for a game which had gone slightly stale as he battled the Spaniard.

“Thanks to the weather gods,” he said. “It was a tough battle, the first two sets, two hours 20 minutes of good intensity.

“But I was feeling it a bit in the legs, it was tough to find my intensity. The rain gave me time to breathe and regain some energy.”

Ruud wrapped up a long afternoon on his fourth match point, ending with 54 winners and 39 unforced errors.

“I’m still surviving, there will be another match tomorrow and I’ll try to survive it,” added the seventh-ranked Ruud, who is the top target remaining after the second-round exits of Medvedev, Carlos Alcaraz and Stefanos Tsitsipas.

The Norwegian owns three titles this season with a match record of 37-13. He reached the Miami final in April but lost to Alcaraz.

He’ll play Canadian sixth seed Felix Auger-Aliassime, who dispatched Britain’s Cameron Norrie 6-3, 6-4.

Unseeded briton Jack Draper advanced, moving through when French veteran Gael Monfils retired with an injury while trailing 6-2, 0-2.


Swiatek ambushed by Brazil’s Haddad Maia in stunning upset at Toronto Masters

Swiatek ambushed by Brazil’s Haddad Maia in stunning upset at Toronto Masters
Updated 12 August 2022

Swiatek ambushed by Brazil’s Haddad Maia in stunning upset at Toronto Masters

Swiatek ambushed by Brazil’s Haddad Maia in stunning upset at Toronto Masters
  • Haddad Maia put Swiatek on the defensive, forcing her to save 15 of 19 break points while committing nine double-faults

TORONTO: Brazilian outsider Beatriz Haddad Maia toppled world No. 1 Iga Swiatek 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 on Thursday to reach the quarterfinals of the WTA Toronto Masters.

The South American ranked 24th in the world beat her third top-10 opponent this season, but notched her first career win over a world No. 1 as she clawed out the victory in three hours.

Haddad Maia, who won titles at Nottingham and Birmingham in June, became the first Brazilian to reach the quarters at a WTA 1000 tournament.

She was the first from her country to face a No. 1 since Telian Pereira lost to Serena Williams at Roland Garros in 2016.

Swiatek, whose six titles this season include the French Open, missed her chance at a 50th match win this year.

Her run of 23 straight wins at the Masters 1000 level was snapped in difficult playing conditions.

“At the beginning I struggled to find my rhythm, probably because she’s lefty and I had a hard time adjusting to her serve,” Swiatek said.

“Without the wind I would manage. But it was pretty crazy out there.

“In the third set I knew (the mistakes) I’d made. So I know what I want to work on and what I want to improve before the next tournament, for sure.”

Swiatek added: “She just used the conditions better than me. When she was playing with the wind she was playing really strong balls.

“I made more mistakes than her. She was a little bit more solid.”

Haddad Maia put Swiatek on the defensive, forcing her to save 15 of 19 break points while committing nine double-faults.

She limited her own unforced errors to a dozen, backed up by 23 winners while Swiatek ended with 33 winners and 28 unforced errors.

“I’m happy and proud of myself and my team, it’s a special moment,” she said. “It’s not always easy to beat the number one on a huge stage and against all the crowd.

“I think I passed through very tough moments in my career to live this moment. I just want to enjoy a little bit.

“I don’t want to think about my next match. But, yeah, I feel happy. I believe in myself.

In other third-round action, Coco Gauff survived 15 double-faults to squeeze out a 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 (7/4) win over Aryna Sabalenka.

The American teenager contributed just under half of the miscues in the error-strewn affair, with her opponent accounting for 18 additional doubles.

Tenth seed Gauff, who fell to Swiatek at Roland Garros in her first Grand Slam final this year, battled for three and a quarter hours against sixth-seeded Sabalenka.

Gauff finished with nine aces and saved 10 of 14 break points that she faced.

“The conditions weren’t easy today, a lot of wind,” Gauff said. “I think I hung in there mentally and that’s what I’m most proud of.”

Victory for the 18-year-old came a day after she beat Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina in the third round in a match that took two and three-quarter hours.

The American admitted that trailing 3-0 in the final set, she had to give herself a serious talking-to.

“I said if I was going to lose, I’m not going to lose like this. I had to change, and that’s what I did.”

“She is frustrating to play. She plays big tennis — sometimes you hit a good shot and she hits a winner.”

Gauff will face off on Friday against two-time Grand Slam winner Simona Halep after the former No. 1 from Romania defeated Switzerland’s Jil Teichmann 6-2, 7-5 in 91 minutes.

Seventh-seeded American Jessica Pegula advanced, beating defending champion Camila Giorgi of Italy 3-6, 6-0, 7-5.

Pegula will face Kazakhstan’s Yulia Putintseva, who beat Alison Riske 6-3, 7-5.


FIFA officially advances World Cup start by a day to Nov. 20

FIFA officially advances World Cup start by a day to Nov. 20
Updated 12 August 2022

FIFA officially advances World Cup start by a day to Nov. 20

FIFA officially advances World Cup start by a day to Nov. 20
  • Football’s top officials universally approved the decision, FIFA said in a statement while Qatar said it would give unspecified help to fans affected by the change

DOHA: FIFA on Thursday officially brought forward the opening match of this year’s World Cup by one day to Nov. 20 in a rare change so that hosts Qatar feature in the gala game.

Football’s top officials universally approved the decision, FIFA said in a statement while Qatar said it would give unspecified help to fans affected by the change.

On the old schedule, Qatar against Ecuador was to be the official inauguration match on Nov. 21 but Senegal against Netherlands would be the first match of the day. England against Iran would have been second.

Qatar had also been frustrated as it has invested in a huge opening ceremony show.

“Host country Qatar will now play Ecuador on Sunday 20 November as part of a stand-alone event,” said FIFA.

“The opening match and ceremony of this year’s tournament at Al Bayt Stadium have been brought forward one day following a unanimous decision taken by the bureau of the FIFA Council today.”

The bureau is made up of FIFA leader Gianni Infantino and the six heads of the contintental confederations.

“The change ensures the continuity of a long-standing tradition of marking the start of the World Cup with an opening ceremony on the occasion of the first match featuring either the hosts or the defending champions,” added FIFA.

Under the new plan, the Group A game between Senegal and the Netherlands has been shifted from 1:00pm (1000 GMT) on November 21 to a 7:00pm start. There is no change to England’s opening Group B clash against Iran.

Qatari organizers, who have spent billions of dollars preparing for the event, immediately welcomed FIFA’s gesture.

“Opening the first FIFA World Cup to be held in the Middle East and Arab world is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Qatar,” said the organizing committee in a statement.

“The impact of this decision on fans was assessed by FIFA. We will work together to ensure a smooth tournament for the supporters affected by the change,” they added without giving details.

Some Ecuador fans may have to change flights to arrive in Qatar earlier and football sources said the date switch could force changes to some World Cup contracts.

But many companies linked to the World Cup expressed confidence that disruption would be overcome.

“It is something we will deal with,” said Jaime Byrom, chairman of Match Hospitality, which has a deal with FIFA to organize hospitality packages for World Cup matches and has locked in 450,000 tickets for the tournament.

“It is really not — compared to the other challenges that we could have faced or have faced in the past — a particularly large problem,” Byrom told AFP.

“We have to focus on those customers who are most affected and I guess in this case we will be looking at our Ecuadorian customers who are traveling from overseas, and making sure that they are on time for the match.”

Official countdown clocks for the event were quickly changed. The 100 day countdown to the opening match will now start on Friday, instead of Saturday.

The decision was also announced as Qatar staged the first official match at the Lusail stadium which will host the December 18 World Cup final.

Before more than 10,000 fans, and with players engulfed in air conditioning to ward off stifling summer heat, Al Arabi beat Al Rayyan 2-1 in the Qatar championship.


Barcelona sell off assets to make signings in attempt to restore glory days

Barcelona sell off assets to make signings in attempt to restore glory days
Updated 11 August 2022

Barcelona sell off assets to make signings in attempt to restore glory days

Barcelona sell off assets to make signings in attempt to restore glory days
  • Faced with severe limits on spending in order to comply with La Liga's financial controls, Barcelona knew they needed to raise money quickly to be able to invest in any signings
  • They quickly set about selling off assets to bring in money by activating a series of what have been called economic "levers"

MADRID: Barcelona’s attempts to establish themselves once again as a force in La Liga and the Champions League this season have seen the heavily-indebted Catalans gamble with their future to enable a striking summer spending spree.
A year after being forced to let Lionel Messi go as eye-watering reported debts of 1.35 billion euros ($1.39 billion) crippled the club, Barcelona have spent 153 million euros on transfer fees alone to strengthen their squad, with Robert Lewandowski the most notable new arrival.
“This is a really exciting season. Nothing would give me more pleasure than to make all the fans happy,” coach Xavi Hernandez said before last weekend’s 6-0 friendly win over Mexican side Pumas UNAM.
“That means winning trophies. That is our main objective.”
After three years of struggles, on and off the field, the summer has seen hope return to the Camp Nou, with president Joan Laporta talking of an exciting “new era” when the club unveiled Lewandowski as a Barcelona player.
“Euphoria” was the headline on the cover of local daily Sport the same day.
Even partisan Madrid-based sports daily Marca admitted that Barca were “frightening” in the wake of their drubbing of Pumas UNAM last weekend, when Lewandowski scored his first goal since his arrival from Bayern Munich.
Yet how Barcelona have gone about raising the funds to sign Lewandowski, as well as center-backs Jules Kounde and Andreas Christensen, AC Milan midfielder Franck Kessie, and Leeds United’s Brazilian winger Raphinha has raised eyebrows.
Faced with severe limits on spending in order to comply with La Liga’s financial controls, Barcelona knew they needed to raise money quickly to be able to invest in any signings and, crucially, to register any new players.
They quickly set about selling off assets to bring in money by activating a series of what have been called economic “levers.”
The club sold 25 percent of their domestic television rights for the next quarter of a century to US investment firm Sixth Street for some 400 million euros.
Barcelona sold 24.5 percent of Barca Studios, which manages the club’s digital business and audiovisual productions, to Socios.com for 100 million euros on August 1, and then another 25 percent to US investment firm GDA Luma for 100 million euros more.
In the space of a few weeks, 600 million euros had been brought in to fill the coffers.
The aim was to clean up the club’s finances, make it possible to increase the salary limit set by La Liga and allow the new signings to all be registered for the start of the season.
On top of that, Barca signed the biggest sponsorship deal in their history with Spotify, bringing in a reported 435 million euros for the music streaming giant to feature on the club’s shirts and to have naming rights to the Camp Nou.
And so Barcelona look well placed to become serious title contenders again as they prepare to host Rayo Vallecano this weekend.
Only time will tell if mortgaging part of the club’s assets in exchange for an immediate influx of cash will bear fruit.


Yet, Barcelona are still waiting for La Liga to allow them to register their new signings, although they hope to be able to do so in time for the season.
They are also hoping to further ease their financial problems by reducing their wage bill.
The Catalans have been trying to persuade Frenkie de Jong to leave, with suggestions even made that a contract he signed in 2020 was not legal. The Dutch midfielder says he wants to stay.
Martin Braithwaite, Samuel Umtiti and Memphis Depay are also candidates to depart the Camp Nou, with the latter reportedly a target for Juventus.
On top of that, efforts have been made to persuade certain players, including Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets, to accept wage reductions.
Barca’s “economic miracle,” as the press have called it, still has to be transformed into a footballing miracle.


Saudi Olympic Training Center to set up PhysioTrio rehabilitation services

Saudi Olympic Training Center to set up PhysioTrio rehabilitation services
Updated 11 August 2022

Saudi Olympic Training Center to set up PhysioTrio rehabilitation services

Saudi Olympic Training Center to set up PhysioTrio rehabilitation services
  • Athletes will receive support from the main headquarters in Riyadh and supporting centers in Jeddah and Dammam
  • PhysioTrio will be providing access to sports medicine doctors, physiotherapy and sports nutrition experts, among other health-related services

RIYADH: The Saudi Olympic Training Center has announced that it has commissioned PhysioTrio, an initiative that will establish three physiotherapy centers that specialize in treating sports injuries across the country.

The main headquarters in Riyadh, with supporting centers in Jeddah and Riyadh, will provide support to SOTC athletes during their training periods in the Kingdom.

The SOTC is dedicated to creating a cutting-edge sports hub through the provision of world-class services, facilities and infrastructure, and PhysioTrio will be providing access to sports medicine doctors, physiotherapy and sports nutrition experts, among other health-related services.

Director of High-Performance Services at the SOTC Jon Goodwin believes this is an “exciting step for [SOTC] because it is the first tangible support service we have been able to put alongside the athletes’ sport training programs.”

He added: “Getting them appropriate, fast and reliable medical care will really help to keep these athletes on course, keep them training more regularly and enhance their future performance.”

Executive Manager of PhysioTrio Dr. Abdullah Al-Juraisi expressed his delight at working with the SOTC, saying: “PhysioTrio is pleased to announce its work with the Saudi Olympic Training Center to provide rehabilitation and physiotherapy services for its elite players across several different sports.”

The SOTC currently works to develop 17 sports in the bid to build world-class Saudi athletes by the 2034 Asian Games.

The 2034 Asian Games represent the culmination of a 12-year period for the SOTC, which they see as sufficient time to positively affect the development of athletes in the long term.