Motherhood gives squash star Nour El-Tayeb new perspective but world domination remains her target

Exclusive Motherhood gives squash star Nour El-Tayeb new perspective but world domination remains her target
Nour El-Tayeb, above, plays in the CIB Egyptian Squash Open 2019 in Cairo. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 28 March 2022

Motherhood gives squash star Nour El-Tayeb new perspective but world domination remains her target

Motherhood gives squash star Nour El-Tayeb new perspective but world domination remains her target
  • The Egyptian former World No. 3 returned to competitive action in December and is now taking part in the British Open, which begins on Monday in Hull

When Nour El-Tayeb found out she was pregnant in late 2020, she recalls becoming very emotional, suddenly forced to grapple with the idea she was going to retire from squash without achieving two of her biggest goals: reaching No. 1 in the world and winning the World Championship.

The Egyptian former world No.3  announced she was pregnant in a raw and heartfelt video, holding back tears as she reflected on her career, and although it sounded like she was hanging up her racquet, her closing statements left the door open for a possible comeback.

“Probably my dad thinks I’m going to do a Serena Williams and come back and play again, my dad believes so much I can do it; I’m not sure,” El-Tayeb said, referring to the tennis superstar who reached four Grand Slam finals after having her first child, Olympia.

El-Tayeb’s father was not wrong.

Although she hadn’t really planned to, El-Tayeb was back training two and a half months after having her daughter Farida — who arrived in July 2021 — and by December she was competing in her first tournament, the Squash Open Black Ball in Cairo.

She enjoyed a winning return, triumphing in her first match back from maternity leave before falling to world No.1 Nour El-Sherbini in the quarter-finals.

According to her husband, squash world No.2 Ali Farag, El-Tayeb doesn’t plan too far ahead and she only felt the urge to start training again and contemplated a possible comeback when she attended the World Championship in Chicago last summer.

“The day Ali won the World Championship in Chicago, I was there with Farida, she was just two weeks old; I got there and I watched Nour (El-Sherbini) and Nouran (Ghoul) compete in the final, I felt like I really wanted to play,” El-Tayeb told Arab News on the eve of the British Open, which begins on Monday in Hull.

“I initially started exercising to lose weight and get fit again after giving birth. I took it step by step at first but as soon as I started exercising I felt like I wanted to try to make a comeback.”

This week’s British Open — one of the most prestigious events on the squash calendar and dubbed “the Wimbledon of squash” — will be just the fifth tournament on El-Tayeb’s comeback tour.

So far, she reached a semifinal in her second event back, pushing world No. 1 El-Sherbini to four games before bowing out, then shocked world No. 3 Hania El-Hammamy en route to the quarter-finals of the 2022 Black Ball Open a few weeks later.

“At first, one of the reasons I wanted to retire from squash — and thank God I got pregnant — was that I felt I was getting too desperate for a while to get to number one in the world. So anything less than getting to number one or winning a tournament really upset me,” El-Tayeb said.

“I felt like I got out of every tournament feeling upset; even if I made a final or had a good result, I would still feel bad about it. So I told Ali I didn’t want to return to squash with this same mindset.

“The mindset I had in the past, I was living a very good life yet somehow I always felt upset, which shouldn’t be the case. So I had hope that having a baby would change my perspective.”

And has her perspective indeed changed?

“I think more or less yes,” the 29-year-old said.

“I still want to win but right now I’m still in the stage where my expectations are low because I just started my comeback and I still haven’t reached a higher level.

“But so far I feel like at least I am putting a bit less pressure on myself because my day is very exhausting and my life doesn’t revolve around me anymore, so either way there is less pressure.”

 

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Nour El Tayeb (@noureltayeb)

 

While other sports have seen mothers make successful returns to competition, such examples are rare in squash.

Ex-world No.2 Natalie Grinham returned to squash after having her first child and re-entered the top 10 before having her second child four years later. Her second comeback was short-lived and she retired from the sport in 2017.

El-Tayeb reached out to Grinham for advice as she made her way back to the tour, picking her brain on various topics, such as breastfeeding alongside training, among other things.

El-Tayeb’s return to professional squash so soon after giving birth has been nothing short of inspiring, and her peers are the first to say it. Her goals remain big and she is attempting to do something no one has ever done before in squash: To summit the rankings and become world champion as a mother competing on tour.

Her comeback has garnered lots of attention and respect, and she admits she didn’t fully grasp the impact it could have when she took her first steps toward returning to the squash court.

“I honestly didn’t expect it to be a big thing but also when I got pregnant, I started to understand how difficult it is and why most women athletes choose to get pregnant toward the end of their professional careers, and not in the middle,” said El-Tayeb.

“I realized how demanding it is. But at the same time it is doable.

“I didn’t realize I would be helping others by serving as an example, but honestly, if I can, especially in today’s world of social media where everyone follows everyone, if I can help people, that’s a very nice thing and it’s something I would love to keep doing.

“In Egypt the norm is to stop competing when you get pregnant, so if my example can maybe help people consider returning to their sport after giving birth, then that’s a very nice thing. Women are susceptible to post-partum depression so exercising is definitely a way to counter that as well.”

 

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Ali Farag (@aliamrfarag)

 

El-Tayeb spoke about some of the challenges she has been facing as a new mother competing on tour. As a professional athlete, she was used to having her entire day revolve around her squash and having every part of it geared toward her performing her best in training or at tournaments. That dynamic has completely shifted now that she has Farida.

“I now plan my practices around Farida’s eating schedule and sleep schedule,” she said. “I’m not sleeping well so I have to adjust to lack of sleep or this kind of intermittent sleeping. If I had to pick one thing to be the toughest challenge, it would be the lack of sleep.

“But it’s nice that I’m no longer thinking about squash all the time, I’m not obsessing all the time, ‘Did I play well today? Did I play poorly?’ Now I get back to training and it’s over. Today actually I haven’t thought about squash since I got back from training,” she told me last Thursday.

So far, El-Tayeb and her husband Farag have been alternating parenting duties depending on their tournament schedules, and have been relying on help from their families when they are home in Cairo. On the road, things can get a bit trickier, especially if both of them have matches or practices scheduled at similar timings.

Some of the players have offered to babysit while El-Tayeb is on court and while traveling the tour with an eight-month old can be daunting, she is truly embracing it and is in fact excited about it.

 

 

“If you lived with us, you’d be in absolute awe of what she’s doing,” Farag tells me of his wife.

“She’s not sleeping enough, she goes to training while feeling tired; she’d have Farida with her and sometimes she’d have to cut her practice short because Farida is crying and she has to feed her. While traveling, it’s match day and she hasn’t slept enough. So many dynamics around her that don’t make it easy to compete; it’s really inspiring to be honest.”

The Farag clan flew to the UK on Saturday ahead of the British Open and a photo of all three of them — Ali, Nour and Farida — napping in the car as they made their way to Hull was posted by world No. 4 Amanda Sobhy with the caption: “When baby Farida is asleep on the road trip to Hull, so are mom and dad.”

While El-Tayeb acknowledges that she is slightly worried about how she will fare in her matches given she has her daughter with her at the tournament, she is relishing the adventure.

“I’m excited that it’s a new experience and a new challenge,” she said. “The last five years, I hadn’t experienced anything new in squash; I had been going to the same tournaments, in the same places. This time the setup is new and fun. Traveling with Farida is nice, having her around helps me not to over-think my matches as I used to in the past. So it’s nice in that sense. I love the idea of traveling Ali and Farida together. So that is, again, a nice experience.”

Farag, who won a title at Wimbledon earlier this month, paid tribute to El-Tayeb in his victory speech and said he was keen to rush back to Cairo to take over the care of Farida while his wife was competing in a tournament in the Egyptian capital.

It was a statement that carries deep value, portraying how much he supports El-Tayeb in her pursuit of a professional career, especially in the face of an Egyptian society that doesn’t necessarily see too many husbands encouraging their wives to work.

 

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Nour El Tayeb (@noureltayeb)

 

“For me, I think this is the nicest message we could try to convey — that a man is encouraging his wife to pursue her career,” said El-Tayeb.

“We see so many people around us in Egypt, across all walks of life, that most men don’t encourage their wives to work. It’s one of the nicest things that my husband is encouraging me and supporting me in my squash career and he is the one who believes I can reach the No.1 ranking today.

“I hope people can see that something like this can only make a relationship between a man and a woman stronger more than anything else.

“When we both won the US Open at the same time (in 2017), I could see that some of the reaction was like, ‘Wow, that’s so nice, look how Ali is supporting his wife’s career’, and stuff like that. So that was a nice message at the time and I hope we can keep that up.”

While El-Tayeb is trying not to put too much pressure on herself as she continues this unexpected comeback, she cannot desert her competitive nature and her innate desire to achieve.

“I really, really want to become No.1 in the world. Even though my expectations at the moment are low, I still wish I could win the upcoming World Championship, which is in two months’ time,” said El Tayeb, who was runner-up to Nour El Sherbini at Worlds in 2019.

“I feel like it’s doable, especially that it’s going to be in Egypt. I really want to win it. That’s still my target, it’s still my dream.”


A tale of two creases as latest revisions to Laws of Cricket come into effect

A tale of two creases as latest revisions to Laws of Cricket come into effect
Updated 8 sec ago

A tale of two creases as latest revisions to Laws of Cricket come into effect

A tale of two creases as latest revisions to Laws of Cricket come into effect
  • Although it ceased being the game’s governing body in 1993, the Marylebone Cricket Club continues to be responsible for debating and drafting Laws

On Oct. 1, 2022, nine revisions to the Laws of Cricket will become effective. These constitute the third edition of the 2017 re-coding, the seventh set since the Laws were first drafted in 1744.

Although it ceased being the game’s governing body in 1993, the Laws’ copyright remains with the Marylebone Cricket Club, based at Lords in London.

The MCC’s Laws sub-committee is responsible for debating and drafting, in close consultation with the Cricket Committee of the International Cricket Council, the game’s governing body. It may appear curious that the game’s governing body is neither the owner nor the drafter of its rules, but recognisable benefits of the MCC’s continuing responsibility is its neutrality. The Laws of Cricket apply to all levels of the game, from Test matches down to village greens and city parks. 

As such, they should be applied evenly. In my experience, at club level, the changes that have been made since 2000 have not been. 

This may reflect an ignorance of the changes by those who stand as umpires; at the top levels of club cricket, umpires are qualified and au fait with the most recent Laws. At lower levels, though, players take turns to umpire, making judgements about the fate of their own teammates. This is a situation which can, and does, cause friction and bias, especially if the individual concerned is not aware of the latest amendments.

Seven of nine of the 2022 revisions are straightforward, but two contain potential pitfalls. Law 41.16, classed under Unfair Play, has always carried the potential to be controversial. It addresses the issue of the non-striker leaving his or her ground early, determined as the time between when the bowler starts to run up and the instant when the ball would normally be expected to be delivered — a grey definition. If the bowler sees that the non-striker is out of ground, then he or she has the option to break the wicket and for the non-striker to be given out on appeal. There have been only 53 recorded instances in first class and professional cricket.

It has been customary for the bowler to warn the non-striker rather than break the wicket, but there has been a small rise in cases of bowlers not observing this tradition. In an attempt to normalize this means of dismissal, clause 41.16 has been moved to Law 38: Run Out. It is unlikely to dampen the controversy which it generates. On Sept. 24, only days before the re-classification became effective, a women’s One Day International between England and India was finely poised, England needing 17 runs to win with one wicket remaining. The match ended when an Indian bowler, in her delivery stride, turned to break the wicket, with the non-striker out of her crease. It is ironic that the match was played at Lords, where the change was incubated, opening the issue up again.

The second amendment, which may be the cause of future controversy, relates to the definition of a wide delivery. Law 22.1.2 states that “the ball will be considered as passing wide of the striker unless it is sufficiently within reach for him/her to be able to hit it with the bat by means of a normal cricket stroke.” At club level, there can be a tendency for subjectivity to be applied to the assessment of what constitutes a wide. In some competitions and in all professional one-day and T20 cricket, any ball bowled down the leg-side is deemed a wide. However, particularly in T20, there has been increasing tendency for batters to move laterally across the crease before the bowler delivers the ball. The MCC felt it unfair that a delivery might be called wide if it passes where the batter had stood as the bowler entered his/her delivery stride.

In order to address this possibility, Law 22.1.1. now states that “If the bowler bowls a ball … the umpire shall adjudge it a Wide if, according to the definition in 22.1.2, the ball passes wide of where the striker is standing or has stood at any point after the ball came into play for that delivery, and which also would have passed wide of the striker standing in a normal batting position.” 

This is rather a lot to take in for any umpire, and certainly for ad-hoc ones in club cricket, even if they read and understand it. There is scope for misunderstanding.

It is also a taxing matter for the bowler. One example is when the striker steps away outside of the leg stump and then steps back in when the ball is bowled. Observing this activity, the bowler may have adjusted the line of delivery towards where the striker had temporarily moved, only to see the ball pass down the leg side, from where the striker had moved at the last second. If the umpire deems that delivery a wide, the bowler will have every right to feel aggrieved. It is difficult enough for many club cricketers to deliver the ball accurately and consistently to where they intend, let alone adjust that line in an instant.

Lateral movement across the crease has not yet infiltrated too much at lower levels. It is not known if cricket’s lawmakers have considered an alternative solution, that of disallowing excessive lateral movement across the crease and insisting that the striker stands still awaiting delivery of the ball. This may need consideration if the amendment causes too much controversy. It is too early to know how these two revisions will affect the playing and umpiring of the game or their potential to generate ill-feeling. 

It ought not to be difficult for a non-striker to stay within ground, in the knowledge that failure to do so can lead to being legitimately run out. Equally, it should not be difficult to legislate that a striker stands still until the ball is being delivered.


No respite for Bayern players with Leverkusen game looming

No respite for Bayern players with Leverkusen game looming
Updated 40 min 25 sec ago

No respite for Bayern players with Leverkusen game looming

No respite for Bayern players with Leverkusen game looming
  • Bayern coach Julian Nagelsmann welcomed Germany players Thomas Müller, Joshua Kimmich, Leroy Sané, Jamal Musiala and Serge Gnabry back
  • Bayern’s players took their poor form to the Germany team

BERLIN: The international break provided little respite for Bayern Munich’s struggling stars ahead of the team’s high-stakes Bundesliga game against Bayer Leverkusen on Friday.
Bayern coach Julian Nagelsmann welcomed Germany players Thomas Müller, Joshua Kimmich, Leroy Sané, Jamal Musiala and Serge Gnabry back to training on Wednesday after what proved to be a frustrating two games with the national team.
The rain they encountered in Munich matched the mood.
Bayern, after four games without a win in the Bundesliga, had been hoping that Germany’s Nations League games against Hungary and England would help reinvigorate their players and restore confidence ahead of a busy schedule of domestic and Champions League games.
Instead, Bayern’s players took their poor form to the Germany team, which lost 1-0 at home to Hungary, then drew 3-3 with England after throwing away a two-goal lead.
Bayern captain Manuel Neuer and midfielder Leon Goretzka missed the Germany games due to coronavirus infections, but both were back on the training field for Nagelsmann on Tuesday.
Nagelsmann had said he was going to use the break to think “about everything” after Bayern ended their run of three draws with a loss in Augsburg, the team’s first defeat of the season.
Only a convincing performance on Friday will ease the pressure on the coach, who seemed to be at a loss to explain his team’s slump. Bayern next face a visit to Borussia Dortmund for “der Klassiker” the following weekend.
Leverkusen also need to make amends after their disappointing start. Gerardo Seoane’s team are in crisis after just one win from seven league games so far.
“Both teams are in a similar situation – each at their own level. Both are dissatisfied with the results, but both also show many positive signs,” Seoane said.
“Bayern Munich had an incredible number of scoring chances in every game. We don’t need to talk about quality.”


Sebastien Loeb ready for battle in Morocco as Rally-Raid title race heats up

Sebastien Loeb ready for battle in Morocco as Rally-Raid title race heats up
Updated 29 September 2022

Sebastien Loeb ready for battle in Morocco as Rally-Raid title race heats up

Sebastien Loeb ready for battle in Morocco as Rally-Raid title race heats up
  • BRX’s French driver holds one-point lead over Nasser Al-Attiyah of Qatar

AGADIR: Sebastien Loeb is set for another tense battle with Nasser Al-Attiyah as he looks to build on his lead in the World Rally-Raid Championship when the Rallye du Maroc gets underway on Saturday.

Loeb, driving one of three Prodrive Hunters entered by Bahrain Raid Xtreme, holds a slender one-point advantage over Al-Attiyah as the inaugural W2RC series resumes in Agadir after a seven-month break.

Partnered by Fabian Lurquin, nine-time World Rally champion Loeb and the rest of the BRX team recently covered 2,500 km of testing in Morocco, in temperatures close to 50 C, a demanding preparation not only for the Rallye du Maroc, but also the 2023 Dakar Rally.

“We had a good feeling with the car and it was reliable, too, so everything is working well,” said Loeb.

“At the moment we are leading, but we know Nasser will be fast in Morocco and the gap is very small. So we have to fight hard to get some more good points for the title.”

Loeb finished runner-up to Al-Attiyah in this year’s Dakar before grabbing the championship lead from the Qatari in Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge in March.

Argentina’s Orly Terranova and Spanish co-driver Alex Haro, who finished fourth in the Dakar, are also back in action with BRX in Morocco, while Frenchman Guerlain Chicherit will be partnered by Alex Winocq in a third Prodrive Hunter.

After being diagnosed with cancer in March and battling through treatment, BRX’s Nani Roma rejoined the team months ahead of schedule for testing in Morocco, having already been instrumental in the development of the Hunter.

The two-time Dakar winner has been equally involved in the development of the world’s first all-terrain hypercar, based on the Hunter rally car, which is being built in limited numbers to the individual specifications of select supercar enthusiasts.

Roma will be demonstrating and testing the Hunter hypercar for prospective buyers in Dubai in November. He will continue to work with BRX throughout the team’s rally program, which continues with the Andalucia Rally, the final round of the W2RC, from Oct. 18-21.

However, it is too late in the schedule for Roma to compete with the team in Morocco and Spain next month, and Dakar in January 2023.

From Agadir, Rallye du Maroc heads out for six stages covering 1,575 km and featuring more sand than seen in previous years. The BRX cars will again be using sustainable Eco-Power fuel, which reduces CO2 emissions by 80 percent.

Gus Beteli, the BRX team principal, said: “Following a very positive test in Morocco, we’re very much looking forward to being back rallying against the competition, the clock and the desert.

“Seb, Orly and Guerlain have further improved the package we have through not leaving any angle unexplored for this World Championship push. These are busy but exciting times at BRX.”


Qatar: COVID-19 vaccinations not compulsory for World Cup fans

Qatar: COVID-19 vaccinations not compulsory for World Cup fans
Updated 29 September 2022

Qatar: COVID-19 vaccinations not compulsory for World Cup fans

Qatar: COVID-19 vaccinations not compulsory for World Cup fans
  • All visitors aged over six would have to produce negative COVID-19 tests before taking flights to Qatar for the tournament

DOHA: Coronavirus vaccinations will not be mandatory for the million-plus fans going to the World Cup in Qatar this year, authorities in the Gulf state said on Thursday.

All visitors aged over six will have to produce negative COVID-19 tests before taking flights to Qatar for the tournament that starts November 20, the authorities said in new health guidelines.

The 29-day tournament will be the first major global sporting event with fans since the eruption of the Covid pandemic in December 2019.

The Qatar organizers and world football’s governing body FIFA have said they want the event to be a sign that the world is getting over the devastating pandemic.

But they have warned that health guidelines will change if the threat blows up again.

Fans will have to wear masks in public transport in Qatar and anyone who tests positive for Covid-19 “will be required to isolate in accordance with Ministry of Public Health guidelines,” the health ministry said.

The ministry added that it may force players, referees and officials to stay in a secure “bio-bubble” if coronavirus cases take off “to allow for the safe operation and continuation of the event.”


Saudi Arabia take on Bahrain in opening qualifier of ICC U-19 Men’s Cricket World Cup Division 2

Saudi Arabia take on Bahrain in opening qualifier of ICC U-19 Men’s Cricket World Cup Division 2
Updated 29 September 2022

Saudi Arabia take on Bahrain in opening qualifier of ICC U-19 Men’s Cricket World Cup Division 2

Saudi Arabia take on Bahrain in opening qualifier of ICC U-19 Men’s Cricket World Cup Division 2
  • Top two teams of qualification campaign in Oman will advance to final 2023 Asia Qualifier with place in 2024 World Cup at stake

Saudi Arabia on Thursday morning take on Bahrain in their opening fixture of the ICC U-19 Men’s Cricket World Cup Division 2 — Asia qualifiers taking place in Oman.

The youngsters from the Kingdom will then face the hosts on Saturday, Oct. 1, before concluding their Group A matches with a fixture against Bhutan on Monday, Oct 3.

The eight-team qualification campaign also includes Hong Kong, Qatar, Singapore and Thailand, who make up Group B, and will feature 16 matches over nine days.

The top two teams will then advance to the 2023 Asia Qualifier alongside already-qualified Kuwait, Malaysia, Nepal and the UAE, with a place at the ICC U19 Men’s Cricket World Cup 2024 at stake.

The Saudi squad landed in Muscat on Wednesday after concluding a 45-day intensive training camp in Riyadh in preparation for the World Cup qualifiers.

“We have carried out a talent hunt across the Kingdom and came up with 25 players, and coach Kabir Khan has done a good job training the boys.” said Tariq Ziad Sagga, CEO of the Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation (SACF). “The squad has an average age which is below 17, and we count on them [to be part of] future national teams.”

“We hope to qualify to the second round of the qualifications,” he added.