Majed Al-Sorour hails Saudi International’s ‘immense impact’ on Kingdom’s golfing growth

Majed Al-Sorour hails Saudi International’s ‘immense impact’ on Kingdom’s golfing growth
Majed Al-Sorour, Golf Saudi CEO and Saudi Golf Federation Deputy Chairman. (Golf Saudi)
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Updated 31 January 2022

Majed Al-Sorour hails Saudi International’s ‘immense impact’ on Kingdom’s golfing growth

Majed Al-Sorour hails Saudi International’s ‘immense impact’ on Kingdom’s golfing growth
  • Golf Saudi CEO and Saudi Golf Federation deputy chairman says the star-studded event’s Asian Tour inclusion is vital to its future success

LONDON: The Golf Saudi CEO and Saudi Golf Federation Deputy Chairman Majed Al-Sorour looks ahead excitedly to the fourth annual tournament in an exclusive Q and A with Arab News

The PIF Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers returns to the Royal Greens Golf and Country Club at King Abdullah Economic City on Feb. 3-6, after growing each year since the inaugural event back in 2019. What will make this year different?

This is now our fourth event and, following three hugely successful hostings as part of the European Tour, the 2022 PIF Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers will be the tournament’s first as an official event on the Asian Tour. This comes following the recent announcement of a 10-year partnership between the Asian Tour and the PIF Saudi International powered by Softbank Investment Advisers — an incredibly exciting new dawn for the tournament that will see us welcome not only the best golfers from across Europe and North America, but now Asia too, cementing a field of 126 truly world-class golfers. 

Why were the Saudi International organizers so keen to partner with the Asian Tour?

It has been fantastic to welcome so many of the world’s biggest names to our event since 2019, and we have been pleased with how the PIF Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers has progressed in the past three years. Our new partnership with the Asian Tour will be vital to the tournament’s future success due to the undeniable importance and potential of Asia’s position in world golf.

Players, sponsors, and fans will benefit from this relationship in a variety of ways. For the PIF Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers, the partnership has allowed us to once again elevate our field and tournament prize money, which rises from $3.5 million to $5 million. Most importantly, we are looking forward to collaborating with major circuits to help create a more inclusive game for all qualified professional golfers alongside passionate individuals who are eager to learn more about golf, as we do see this as a promising first step in that direction.

One of the main goals of the Saudi International is to inspire more Saudis into taking up golf. As we head into the fourth event, how has the game grown in the Kingdom over the past four years?

That is absolutely the goal of not only the PIF Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers, but also the Aramco Saudi Ladies International presented by PIF — and our Aramco Team Series events — too. And it is safe to say that the impact of these events has been immense on golf in Saudi Arabia. We have seen consistent year-on-year growth in the number of men, women and children playing golf within the Kingdom, including more than 1,200 female golfers who have signed up to learn to play in just the last year alone, following the launch of Golf Saudi’s Ladies First Club free golf initiative.

We see our major tournaments as huge moments of inspiration for the people of Saudi Arabia, but we also see them inspired by the work being done on the ground level year-round by the likes of Golf Saudi’s Mass Participation Program, which ahead of the 2022 PIF Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers has been visiting schools Kingdom-wide as part of a trophy tour to further excite the next generation of Saudi golfers. These youngsters don’t have to look far for inspiration, with the likes of Othman Almulla — Saudi Arabia’s first professional golfer — plus Faisal Salhab, recent winner of both the Saudi Open and Pan Arab Championship in Egypt, and Saud Al-Sharif, who won the Jordan Open last year — our two shining light amateurs, who have both won big amateur events recently, including the Saudi Open — doing our country proud on an international stage.

Together, these all help us pursue our own targets under the wider ambition of Vision 2030, including having 3.5 million Saudis try golf for the first time by then; cementing 29,000 new regular Saudi golfers; engaging 135,000 children actively with golf; certifying 900 new physical educators to deliver our schools’ golf program in 320 different schools; and creating 2,300 jobs within Saudi Arabia’s golf industry.

In 2020, directly following the second Saudi International, Golf Saudi hosted the Golf Saudi Summit, a major corporate event that attracted international companies such as the GEO Foundation for Sustainable Golf, Atlas Turf and the Club Managers Association of Europe, who have since developed programs that contribute to the development of golf in Saudi.

This year’s Saudi International will boast its strongest field to date. What do you think attracts the majority of these world-class players to the tournament in Jeddah?

The future we are building here is focused on the next generation. Many of these global superstars find that an easy concept to get on board with and throw their weight behind supporting. These world-class golfers participate in the PIF Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers as a means of helping the game grow in new territories, like here in the Kingdom, as they are passionate about the game’s future. They also know the many benefits that come from playing golf and seek to inspire the younger generation to become more involved in a sport that provides so many physical and mental benefits — and is a game you can play for life.

It’s no secret that a number of the highest-ranked tour pros coming to play the PIF Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers are paid an appearance fee — just as they are at many other tour events around the world — and being elite athletes, they thrive off playing against the best in the world. We have one of the strongest fields in golf outside the majors this year, so from a professional standpoint for many of them it makes sense to play here.

Motives are also, I believe, altruistic — there is a genuine desire to see the game flourish in non-traditional markets. We are a big believer that growing golf will help the nation and people of Saudi Arabia in the future, and there’s no doubt that these events are the catalysts for increasing participation in Saudi.

Finally, we take pride in our world-class hospitality and from feedback we’ve received, we firmly believe the golfers who’ve played in Saudi have had an experience of playing an event that cuts above their usual week-to-week.

By now, we can tell golf truly is growing in Saudi Arabia. As the CEO of Golf Saudi and the deputy chairman of the Saudi Golf Federation, what does this mean to you?

It means we are heading on the right track. The scale, breadth and success of the initiatives, tournaments and events we have introduced in recent years show that more and more Saudis are engaging with golf every day. In the past year alone, we’ve taken Saudi-led events as far afield as New York, London and Spain, drawing a raft of major-winning male and female golf stars to each, all to rave reviews from the players and fans. As a country and in line with the goals of Vision 2030, we remain as ambitious as ever in continuing to develop and grow golf in the Kingdom. We have more members than ever before, more on-course Saudi success than we’ve ever had, more courses, more coaches, more kids picking up clubs: These are all very positive signs. While we continue to look ahead, we can take the odd moment to look back at what we’ve achieved to date and be very proud of that.

What else can we look forward to at this year’s tournament?

Everything that makes the Saudi International the perfect day out will return this year, in a safe, COVID-controlled environment. That includes our superstar-packed field, which will feature the likes of two-time tournament champion Dustin Johnson, 2020-winner Graeme McDowell, and major-winners Bryson DeChambeau, Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson and Shane Lowry.

As well as up-close spectator spots for all the live action, ticket-holders can come and soak up the unspoiled views off the Red Sea coast, where they can enjoy a coffee or mocktail in what is maybe the Kingdom’s most picturesque coffee spot. There will also be food trucks, live have-a-go fun games, challenges and entertainment for all the family, and VIP hospitality for all those looking for an extra-special day.


Murray downs Wawrinka in Cincinnati battle of veterans

Murray downs Wawrinka in Cincinnati battle of veterans
Updated 16 August 2022

Murray downs Wawrinka in Cincinnati battle of veterans

Murray downs Wawrinka in Cincinnati battle of veterans
  • The third set featured another pair of early service breaks; but Murray brought an end to hostilities with a break for 6-5 followed by a labored concluding hold of serve

CINCINNATI: Andy Murray won his first hardcourt match of the summer on Monday, defeating Stan Wawrinka 7-6 (7/3), 5-7, 7-5 in the opening round of the ATP/WTA Cincinnati Masters.
The 35-year-old Scot was facing his 37-year-old Swiss rival for the 22nd time with both treble Grand Slam champions still coming back to full form after long-term injuries over the past few seasons.
Murray lost in the first round at Washington and last week in Montreal while Wawrinka’s last win came on grass two months ago at Queen’s Club, London; he has not won on cement since the Australian Open last year.
Murray needed four match points to advance at a tournament he has won twice, in 2008 and 2011. The veteran was competing here for the 17th time.
“We’re not young anymore,” Murray said. “Both of us gave our best right until the end.
“Matches like this are a lot tougher than when we were in our mid-20s.
“Both of us love this sport, we’ve had our issues with injuries the last few years.
“The sport has been a huge part of my life, I started playing when I was four.”
Compatriot Cameron Norrie joined Murray in the second round with his 7-6 (7/5), 4-6, 6-4 defeat of Dane Holger Rune.
The Scot began to well up as he described his love for the game.
“When I was out injured and not sure if I would be able to come back, I remembered the reasons why you play the game,” Murray said.
“It’s taken a lot of effort and struggles to get back (after two hip surgeries) and play at this level again.
“I want to make the most of it while I’m still able to.”
Murray claimed the opening set in the tiebreaker as he faced his longtime rival.
The Scot went down a break in the second set but got it back before finding himself at a set apiece after being broken in the final game.
The third set featured another pair of early service breaks; but Murray brought an end to hostilities with a break for 6-5 followed by a labored concluding hold of serve.
In the closing stages, Murray loudly chastised himself as his grip on the set threatened to slip away against the Swiss whose best showing here was a semifinal a decade ago.
The contest was punctuated repeatedly by visits from the trainer for both men.
Other winners on opening day included 2016 champion Marin Cilic, who defeated Spain’s Jaume Munar 6-3, 6-3, and American John Isner, the 2013 finalist against Rafael Nadal, who advanced past France’s Benjamin Bonzi 7-6 (13/11), 3-6, 7-6 (7/4).
In the WTA draw, Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina defeated Egyptian Mayar Sherif 6-3, 6-2.
The world number 25 set up a second-round clash with eighth seed Garbine Muguruza, title-winner here in 2017.
The 23-year-old Kazakh lifted her game in the second set to end with five aces and 13 winners against Sharif.
“I was slow at the beginning but I got my rhythm and served well,” Rybakina said. “But my serve always helps me.”
The newest Grand Slam champion said she is trying to look ahead in her career as she adjusts to her status.
“Wimbledon gave me confidence but now I’m focusing on my other tournaments and trying not to think of the past,” she said.
American Amanda Anisimova beat ninth seed Daria Kasatkina 6-4, 6-4.


Morata scores twice as Atlético debuts with win at Getafe

Morata scores twice as Atlético debuts with win at Getafe
Updated 16 August 2022

Morata scores twice as Atlético debuts with win at Getafe

Morata scores twice as Atlético debuts with win at Getafe
  • Morata scored twice on Monday as Atlético began its Spanish league campaign with a 3-0 win at Getafe

MADRID: The decision to keep Álvaro Morata is already paying off for Atlético Madrid.
Morata scored twice on Monday as Atlético began its Spanish league campaign with a 3-0 win at Getafe. Antoine Griezmann also scored coming off the bench, with João Félix setting up all three goals for the visitors.
There had been doubts about whether Atlético would keep Morata after his two-year loan with Juventus ended. Some teams, including Juventus and Manchester United, reportedly had shown interest.
But Morata impressed in the preseason — which included a hat trick against Juventus — and Atlético ultimately decided it was worth keeping the 29-year-old striker.
“I don’t need to send any messages,” Morata said. “I have to keep working for myself and for my team. It was important to start with a victory. I think it’s going to be a great year.”
It didn’t take long on Monday for Morata to show Atlético was right. He scored with a well-placed low shot from the top of the area after a nice one-touch pass by João Félix in the 15th minute, then picked up another superb assist from the Portugal youngster to hit the top of the net from inside the area in the 59th.
“He is doing well, he works hard,” Atlético coach Diego Simeone said. “Everyone at the club hopes he will stay with us.”
Griezmann came off the bench and sealed the victory with a shot from outside the area in the 75th.
Atlético finished third in the Spanish league last year, behind Barcelona and champions Real Madrid.
Madrid won 2-1 at promoted Almería on Sunday, while Barcelona drew 0-0 at home against Rayo Vallecano on Saturday.


FIFA suspends India’s national soccer federation

FIFA suspends India’s national soccer federation
Updated 16 August 2022

FIFA suspends India’s national soccer federation

FIFA suspends India’s national soccer federation

ZURICH: FIFA suspended India’s national soccer federation late Monday “due to undue influence from third parties,” the sport’s governing body said.
The suspension of the All India Football Federation threatens the country’s hosting of the Under-17 Women’s World Cup scheduled for Oct. 11-30.
FIFA said the suspension was effective immediately and that the transgression “constitutes a serious violation of the FIFA Statutes.”
“The suspension will be lifted once an order to set up a committee of administrators to assume the powers of the AIFF executive committee has been repealed and the AIFF administration regains full control of the AIFF’s daily affairs,” FIFA said.
The Under-17 Women’s World Cup “cannot currently be held in India as planned,” FIFA said.
“FIFA is in constant constructive contact with the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports in India and is hopeful that a positive outcome to the case may still be achieved.”


All eyes on Saudi as ‘Rage on the Red Sea’ boxing battle looms

All eyes on Saudi as ‘Rage on the Red Sea’ boxing battle looms
Updated 15 August 2022

All eyes on Saudi as ‘Rage on the Red Sea’ boxing battle looms

All eyes on Saudi as ‘Rage on the Red Sea’ boxing battle looms
  • Usyk will defend his WBA, IBF, WBO, and IBO belts against the former two-time unified champion Joshua, in one of the most anticipated rematches in boxing history
  • Riyadh hosted the epic ‘Clash on the Dunes’ in December 2019 when Joshua defeated Andy Ruiz Jr. on points and avenged his shock defeat a year earlier

JEDDAH: The sporting world’s attention is set to focus on Jeddah this week in anticipation of the “Rage on the Red Sea” boxing match between world heavyweight champion Oleksandr Usyk and challenger Anthony Joshua.

The event on Aug. 20 will also feature a first ever women’s boxing match in Saudi Arabia, and the appearance of Arab up-and-comer Ziyad Al-Maayouf.

Live from Jeddah’s King Abdullah Sports City Arena, Usyk will defend his WBA, IBF, WBO, and IBO belts against the former two-time unified champion Joshua, in one of the most anticipated rematches in boxing history.

The winner will also take home the Ring Magazine title after Tyson Fury vacated it last week.

In the first meeting between these two titans of the heavyweight division, Ukrainian Usyk (19 wins, no losses and 13 knockouts) produced a masterclass performance on route to dethroning Joshua (24-2-22), defeating the Briton in his own backyard by unanimous decision at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, England last September, with over 60,000 fans in attendance and millions more watching around the world.

This time around, Joshua enters the ring as challenger rather than champion, although “AJ” has enacted revenge and immediately reclaimed titles before in Saudi Arabia. Riyadh hosted the epic “Clash on the Dunes” in December 2019 when Joshua defeated Andy Ruiz Jr. on points and avenged his shock defeat a year earlier.

Meanwhile, Usyk remains undefeated in his professional campaign. The former undisputed cruiserweight world champion has made the successful transition to heavyweight and is viewed by many as the world’s pound-for-pound best fighter.

Prince Khalid bin Abdulaziz, chairman of Skill Challenge Entertainment, said: “International boxing spectacles are always special, not least because of the activities and events (that are) part of the pre-fight build-up. History illustrates that the days leading up to massive fights live long in the memory of everyone involved, from fans to media, promotors to sponsors, the fighters themselves to their teams and families.

“They are a traditional yet integral component of local, regional, and international promotion and contribute to the acclaim these events receive and the legacy they leave behind. As such, we are delighted that the time has finally come for Jeddah to host Rage on the Red Sea fight week. Jeddah is ready to welcome the world once more while showcasing precisely (why) it has become the new home for Middle Eastern sport.”

Fight week in Jeddah officially gets underway on Monday with an exclusive media arrival event at Shangri-La Business Center, where international media, VIPs, and other invited guests will enjoy a series of press opportunities with fighters, promotors and key stakeholders.

On Tuesday, Aug. 16, the week’s proceedings continue with the traditional public workout. Hosted at Saudia City, fans will join media and VIPs as the undercard and main event fighters showcase their skills and offer a first-hand glimpse of their pre-fight preparations, sure to generate further buzz before the weekend’s action.

The pre-fight press conference will be held on Wednesday at Shangri-La Hotel from 2 p.m. local time. Stakeholders, sponsors, and the media will be in attendance as the fighters and their teams share their thoughts and answer questions.

On Friday, Aug. 19, the fighters will face off for the final time at the official weigh-in. Later that evening, the Shangri-La ballroom will host an invitation-only gala dinner for global partners and guests of the Ministry of Sports and SCEE, which holds the global rights to the event.


Promoter Eddie Hearn hoping Anthony Joshua emerges world champion in Saudi for a second time

Promoter Eddie Hearn hoping Anthony Joshua emerges world champion in Saudi for a second time
Updated 15 August 2022

Promoter Eddie Hearn hoping Anthony Joshua emerges world champion in Saudi for a second time

Promoter Eddie Hearn hoping Anthony Joshua emerges world champion in Saudi for a second time
  • Two-time British world champion faces Ukraine’s Oleksandr Usyk at Rage on the Red Sea in Jeddah on Saturday
  • 32-year-old Joshua previously won the heavyweight world title in Saudi Arabia in 2019

When Anthony Joshua steps into the ring to face Oleksandr Usyk in Jeddah on Saturday, Aug. 20, it will almost feel like he is fighting in front of a home crowd.

The British boxer, a two-time unified heavyweight world champion, will have a chance to regain the title he lost to his Ukrainian opponent last September when the two rivals meet in a rematch at Rage on the Red Sea.

The 32-year-old has made Jeddah his training base over the last month, and promoter Eddie Hearn hopes Joshua will leave Saudi Arabia a world champion yet again.

“This is our second fight in Saudi Arabia. The first one, ironically, was another rematch that Joshua had to try and win,” said Hearn of Joshua’s previous victory in 2019 against Andy Ruiz. “So, we’ve got good vibes about going back to the Kingdom. The aim for Saudi was always to try and do the undisputed Heavyweight World Championship. The biggest prize in the sport is the Heavyweight World Championship. So, when we did Joshua-Ruiz, the pandemic really slowed that development down. And when this fight came around, it was challenging principally, and everybody got in touch.

“We had a tremendous experience there last time. Joshua is very comfortable there, so much so that he’s been out there for weeks already. Normally, you’d come out a week before the fight, if you’re traveling, and he’s been there for four weeks. He loves it there. He’s feeling confident. And it’s a huge fight for boxing.”

Hearn said that the relative sanctuary of Jeddah has provided Joshua with an ideal preparation period away from the glare of media he would expect in his home country.

“Obviously, a lot of people know him in Saudi, but in England, he can’t breathe without someone taking a photo, someone bothering him,” said the British promoter. “He gives his time to everybody, and it can be quite draining. So, he loves the fact that he can be in Saudi. He loves it there, he feels comfortable there. And he can just chill with his friends in the hotel, he can go out, he can get coffee. His preparation’s been great. He’s got a new trainer for this fight in Robert Garcia. It’s a very tough fight. Usyk is pound for pound probably No. 1 in the sport.

“But Joshua is in a great place. He feels very comfortable in Saudi. And he’s ready.”

Boxing at the highest level may still be new to Saudi Arabia, but it is making big strides toward rivaling established hubs such as London and Las Vegas in terms of holding big-name bouts.

“I have incredible resources. Financially as well, they’re putting a lot behind the events,” Hearn said. “So, you’re going to get a first-class event in terms of arena, press conferences, hotels — everything is done to the highest possible standard, and we feel very comfortable. I couldn’t quite believe when I went back to Jeddah, six or seven weeks ago, the difference in the place that I saw four years ago.

“When you see a different place, you see so many changes, the vibrancy, the energy around the event. Joshua and Usyk were shooting the promo in the square, and people were excited. Prince Khalid [bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud], my good friend who really drives boxing in Saudi Arabia, has a vision for the sport and a love for the sport. And I know how much he cares for the sport. And that matters to me.”

Hearn sees that his aim to get his fighters the best possible fight deals aligns with Saudi’s own desire to promote the sport and, eventually, produce world-class boxers of its own.

“You must always try and get the fighters the best deal because it is a dangerous sport,” Hearn said. “But it’s more than that. There’s a real movement for boxing in Saudi Arabia, and we’re behind it, and I think next week you’re going to see not just a tremendous event but interest from the public there also. And as participation levels increase at a grassroots level, you’re going to start seeing fighters emerge. And when you see fighters emerge, that’s when everything will change there. Can you imagine how big it could be if a fighter went on and won an Olympic medal or won a world championship? It would be huge.”

Saturday night’s card in Jeddah will see the super lightweight Saudi-Egyptian fighter Ziyad Al-Maayouf take on Mexico’s Jose Alatorre.

“You need local fighters,” said Hearn. “It’s all very well coming to Saudi Arabia to say we are developing boxing in the region. But what are we developing? Boxing is so important on so many levels for young people. Fitness, mental health, physical health, discipline and respect. But you still want talent coming through. There’s no reason why over the years, if the coaching is good enough, we can’t see some good fighters emerge. It’s very important that you see those young fighters coming through.”

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic may have somewhat stalled the rise of boxing in Saudi Arabia, but Hearn believes the time is right to kick-start its growth again.

“The commercial interest, the participation interest, the interest from the public is getting bigger all the time,” he said. “When we filmed the promo in the square, you could see people were genuinely interested. The Ruiz fight did a lot for boxing in the Kingdom, but we lost a bit of momentum because of the pandemic. But interest is there, from a public perspective, from a commercial perspective, and it's a huge event in Saudi next Saturday.”

As a message to the fans, Hearn has promised a spectacular event on the Red Sea.

“Just enjoy. We’re desperate for Joshua to win,” he said. “He’s obviously a friend of ours, and we’ve been with him for his professional debut, but Usyk is, pound for pound, great. It’s going to be a tremendous fight, it’s going to be a tremendous atmosphere. It’s the World Heavyweight Championship. And we can’t wait to put on a huge event in Saudi Arabia next Saturday.”