Qatar 2022 ‘door open’ to Chelsea’s Ziyech: Morocco federation chief

Qatar 2022 ‘door open’ to Chelsea’s Ziyech: Morocco federation chief
Chelsea’s Moroccan midfielder Hakim Ziyech. (AFP)
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Updated 13 April 2022

Qatar 2022 ‘door open’ to Chelsea’s Ziyech: Morocco federation chief

Qatar 2022 ‘door open’ to Chelsea’s Ziyech: Morocco federation chief
  • "The doors of the national team are open to all Moroccan players, regardless of their differences," Fouzi Lekjaa said
  • Ziyech had in February ruled himself out of playing for his country again after coach Vahid Halilhodzic omitted the 28-year-old for an Africa Cup of Nations game

RABAT: Morocco’s national team would still welcome Chelsea attacker Hakim Ziyech, the head of its football federation said Wednesday, despite a dispute with the national coach before the kingdom qualified for the 2022 World Cup.
“The doors of the national team are open to all Moroccan players, regardless of their differences,” Fouzi Lekjaa said during a federation board meeting.
Ziyech had in February ruled himself out of playing for his country again after coach Vahid Halilhodzic omitted the 28-year-old for an Africa Cup of Nations game, reproaching him for indiscipline.
But Lekjaa said Wednesday that “nobody can stop a Moroccan player playing for the national team, whether it’s Ziyech, (right back Noussair) Mazraoui or anyone else.”
He said he would discuss this “personal conviction” with Halilhodzic on the coach’s return from holidays later this month.
Halilhodzic, a former Nantes and Paris Saint-Germain player, had said that Ziyech “lacks respect” and could “blow up the team.”
Despite leading the team to qualifying for next year’s World Cup in Qatar, Halilhodzic has been criticized in Morocco for his strategic choices and rumors have circulated of his possible departure.
Lekjaa said Wednesday that the Bosnian-French 69-year-old “is currently the trainer of the national team... but only God knows what the future holds.”
Morocco qualified for the World Cup last month after strolling through a play-off against the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In Qatar it will face Croatia, Belgium and Canada in Group F.


Kyle Walker in doubt for World Cup after groin surgery

Kyle Walker in doubt for World Cup after groin surgery
Updated 15 sec ago

Kyle Walker in doubt for World Cup after groin surgery

Kyle Walker in doubt for World Cup after groin surgery
MANCHESTER, England: England defender Kyle Walker is in doubt for this year’s World Cup after undergoing groin surgery this week.
The Manchester City player sustained the injury in the win 6-3 over Manchester United on Sunday. He was taken off the field in the 41st minute.
“As players we have to appreciate injuries are part and parcel of the game we love,” Walker wrote on Twitter above a picture of himself in a hospital bed. “My operation on Tuesday was a success and now I can concentrate on my rehab and getting back to full fitness. I will be supporting my team mates every day in any way I can.”
City said in a statement on Thursday that the surgery was “successful.”
The 32-year-old Walker had been a certainty for the England squad but coach Gareth Southgate now faces an anxious wait to see if the defender can recover in time to play in Qatar.
After the 5-0 Champions League win over Copenhagen on Wednesday, City manager Pep Guardiola said Walker faced a prolonged period out of action.
“It’s something abdominal and he will be a while out. I cannot say anything else,” Guardiola said. “Kyle will be out for a bit. We have to speak to the doctors. Hopefully, he can get (back for the World Cup) like Kalvin (Phillips).
“I know how important the World Cup is for the players but honestly I don’t know right now.”
Walker was a key figure in England’s run to the semifinals of the 2018 World Cup and the final of last year’s European Championship.
Southgate has plenty of options at the back in Reece James, Kieran Trippier and Trent Alexander-Arnold, but the loss of Walker would be a major blow to his World Cup preparations.

Why nations struggle for sustained dominance across cricket’s different formats

Why nations struggle for sustained dominance across cricket’s different formats
Every cricketing country seems to want to win all competitions all of the time. (File/AFP)
Updated 06 October 2022

Why nations struggle for sustained dominance across cricket’s different formats

Why nations struggle for sustained dominance across cricket’s different formats
  • National boards often fail to keep up with the times and consistently provide the structure whereby talent is identified, nurtured and shaped into winning teams

Every cricketing country seems to want to win all competitions all of the time. At least this is what appears to be the case if public pronouncements by some national cricket boards are to be believed.

This is simultaneously alluring and aspirational, despite evidence that at times during cricket’s history some teams have dominated all others.

The West Indian men’s team won the 50-over World Cup in 1975 and 1979 whilst, between 1984 and 1991, it did not lose a Test series. After that, Australia became the dominant men’s team, going unbeaten in all Ashes series until 2005, and achieving a hat trick of World Cups in 1999, 2003 and 2007. Currently, it holds the T20I World Cup and tops the table of Test-match-playing countries.

Throughout this time, India has been straining to achieve dominance, but has failed. Its last 50-over World Cup triumph was in 2011, its last T20I World Cup triumph was in 2007 and it last reached a final in 2014, losing to Sri Lanka. In these respects, its record of achievement is inferior to the West Indies, which has twice won the T20I Cup and on a par with Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Australia and England. Neither South Africa nor Bangladesh has featured in a final of either format.

At Test level, India came second in the 2019-2021 cycle of performance to New Zealand, who suffered defeat in the finals of the 2015 and 2019 ODI World Cup and the 2021 T20I World Cup.

All of this suggests that the major trophies are shared around over a 10- to 20-year cycle. There are complex reasons why this happens. Successful sides grow old together and the transition takes longer than planned. A raft of injuries to key players prematurely weakens the team. Internal politics stunt performance, as may inappropriate selections, strategies or coaching qualities. The next generation of talent may take up alternative sports, as happened in the West Indies.

One other potential explanation is that the domestic structure is out of keeping with the times. National cricket boards are entrusted with providing the structure whereby talent is identified, nurtured and shaped into national teams. Within this structure lie regional bodies whose responsibility is to achieve the same in their designated area, providing a funnel through which the most talented players can progress to national level.

Recently, in the wake of a disastrous series in Australia, the England and Wales Cricket Board, or ECB, published a High-Performance Review of the men’s team. Its starting point is that, over the last 42 years, the team has been the No. 1 Test team in the world for a total of 12 months, No. 1 in ODIs for 64 months and has held top place in T20I cricket for the equivalent of two years since 2011. This is perceived to be a sub-optimum outcome.

Seventeen recommendations have been proposed, including changes to structure, to support a new vision. This is to be, in five years, the world’s best men’s team across all formats, defined as being No. 1 in at least one format, top three in the others and sustaining this for a long time.

It may safely be assumed that such ambition is shared by a number of other Test-playing teams and national boards. Only the ECB has a structure which does not follow the three predominant formats — multi-day matches, ODIs and T20s. Although India and Pakistan have retained domestic T20 competitions alongside T20 franchised tournaments, it is because their depth of talent allows this to happen. The ECB justifies its decision to introduce The Hundred, a format played in no other country, in terms of attracting a different segment of the market — women and young children.

One of the High-Performance Review’s conclusions was that too much cricket is being played. On the back of this, the ECB propose to reduce the number of matches in all competitions except The Hundred. Separation of the 18 first-class counties into three divisions of six is predicated on the basis that it will allow the best to play against the best. This is an objective which underpins the structures found in other countries.

Australia has only six States, so can aspire to this more easily, as can New Zealand with six teams and West Indies with seven. In 2019, a structural reorganization in Pakistan replaced a departmental, city and regional team structure with six regional teams to encourage “best versus best,” an unpopular move with departments.

Sri Lanka Cricket, with a similar objective in mind, introduced a revised structure this year. A National Super League was created, consisting of five teams selected from players who had competed in a prior 26-team Major Clubs Tournament.

Conversely, in 2021, Cricket South Africa reverted to a 15-team provincial structure, which had been replaced in 2004-2005 by a six-team franchised system. India’s domestic structure, apart from the franchised Premier League, has remained constant since each major competition was founded.

A slight tendency toward a narrow top structure of five to six teams may be discerned from the above, but it may reflect circumstances of geography, as much as deliberate strategy. What all of the Boards share in common is the problem of fitting in the requisite number of matches to fulfil national and international agreements, plus T20 franchises. As schedules continue to adapt to a post-pandemic environment, narrow structures may be best for the times.

It is ironic that since the ECB’s review was launched, its men’s team performances have improved significantly. This is a result of changes in leadership and strategy, drawing from the same talent pool that was available previously, produced by the structure deemed to be inadequate. The effects of alterations to structures can take years to become apparent. It would be wise for any Board with lofty aspirations to acknowledge this, along with recognition that dominance across all formats for a sustained time is rare and getting more difficult.


Mickelson says world golf rankings need LIV events to be credible

Mickelson says world golf rankings need LIV events to be credible
Updated 06 October 2022

Mickelson says world golf rankings need LIV events to be credible

Mickelson says world golf rankings need LIV events to be credible
  • The LIV Series stages its first event in Asia this week
  • LIV has announced plans to expand from eight events this year to 14 in 2023

BANGKOK: Six-time major winner Phil Mickelson on Thursday backed moves to award world ranking points for events on the breakaway LIV Golf circuit, saying it would help maintain the “credibility” of the global leaderboard.
The LIV Series stages its first event in Asia this week and on Wednesday announced a deal to have tournaments co-sanctioned by the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) Tour and awarded Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) points.
The OWGR has not announced whether points will now be awarded to LIV events, starting with this week’s tournament in Bangkok.
But Mickelson, whose departure from the US PGA Tour helped kickstart the big-money LIV series, said it was in the ranking body’s interests to do so.
“I think for the World Golf Rankings, this is a great way to keep its credibility, while not bringing politics into the decision-making process,” the 52-year-old left-hander said on the eve of the LIV’s Bangkok Invitational.
LIV has already staged five events but without any ranking points awarded for its players — including British Open champion Cameron Smith and former world number one Dustin Johnson.
Mickelson, Smith and Johnson are all competing at the new Stonehill course outside the Thai capital for a share of $20 million, with $4 million up for grabs for the winner, easily the largest purse for a golf tournament in Asia.
A host of top players have joined the series, plunging golf into bitter civil war as the US PGA Tour and the Europe-based DP World Tour have scrambled to hold on to talent while the Asian Tour, and now the lesser-known MENA Tour, have aligned themselves with LIV.
Only the top 50 players in the world qualify automatically for the four majors, so top names have been concerned about slipping down the rankings.
But Mickelson said he had no worries that LIV events would be given points appropriately.
“The reason I’m not concerned is that the number of points are based on the quality of the field and not the organization that’s running the tournament, and the quality of our field is remarkably strong,” he said.
“I’m sure for the world golf rankings to maintain their credibility, they’ll continue to award the proper number of points that the tournaments deserve for all tours.”
US players who have signed up to LIV Golf have been indefinitely suspended from the PGA Tour, while the DP World Tour has issued fines and short-term bans.
LIV has announced plans to expand from eight events this year to 14 in 2023, with players competing for $405 million in prize money.


How Saudi Arabia is fostering a field hockey culture among its youth

How Saudi Arabia is fostering a field hockey culture among its youth
Updated 06 October 2022

How Saudi Arabia is fostering a field hockey culture among its youth

How Saudi Arabia is fostering a field hockey culture among its youth
  • Championships for schools and Gulf to be set up, says official
  • Partnerships with playing nations Egypt and Oman soon

It seems that barely a week goes by without the Saudi Olympic and Paralympic Committee adding yet another sporting federation to its rapidly expanding portfolio.

The latest sport to be given a major boost is field hockey, and leading the campaign to raise awareness about it is Mohammed Al-Mandeel, president of the Saudi Hockey Federation.

“I have (a) passion for different areas in sport so I became Saudi Hockey Federation president for many reasons,” he told Arab News at a training camp set up by the body. “One of them is that I used to play this game when I was a student, and inshallah I’m planning to transfer my knowledge here to make it one of the more popular sports (in Saudi Arabia).”

Al-Mandeel graduated with a degree in telecommunications engineering from Cranfield University in the UK, and assumed his role as head of the federation at the start of 2020, though official affiliation to the Asian Hockey Federation did not come until 2021.

“Field hockey is one of the biggest, oldest historical sports in the world, and also a major Olympic sport,” he said, before highlighting its history including that 4000-year-old inscriptions from ancient Egypt seem to depict a sport similar to hockey.

“When you have a new thing in society there will be resistance, so part of our strategy is to raise awareness, to let people know about this sport,” he said. “Football, basketball and volleyball all have an established audience, but hockey is considered a new challenge, and for people who like to try something new our federation is setting up new training programs for beginners who want to try this sport.”

It is not only in Europe and Southeast Asia that hockey is popular, it already has a following in several Middle Eastern countries.

“The top Arab country in this sport is Egypt while in the Gulf it’s Oman. They have a lot of good players, and we already have partnerships with them to have their knowledge transferred here to Saudi,” Al-Mandeel said.

A strategy to raise the profile of the game is already in place.

“We have different channels (to promote hockey),” said Al-Mandeel. “In digital media, we have Snapchat, TikTok, Instagram, Twitter and we have our official website. And through small pop-up events, we are spreading new ideas to the people.”

The federation’s website is already open for people wishing to register for training programs. Al-Mandeel’s long-term ambitions are far more lofty.

“My (aim) is to have a Saudi team in the top three in the Olympics,” he said.

A member of the federation’s board of directors, Abdullah Sulaiman Al-Sayari, laid out the strategy to attract youngsters to hockey in a country were three or four major sports attract most of the attention.

“We made a plan to reach out to schools (by) nominating three schools in Riyadh, three in Jeddah and three in the Eastern region, and started working with them to transform these schools into hockey academies for their students or other children in the area,” said Al-Sayari.

“So far we are working with Al-Arkam Schools in Riyadh, with a huge number of students. We want to invest in kids, as it’s a new game and it’s hard to attract new players as they have other hobbies an interests in different sports,” he said. “But we are allowing them to attend training sessions of some big clubs to let them know that they can reach their level and compete.”

Al-Sayari was also keen to highlight the support of the government in promoting the sport.

“We faced a lot of challenges in this sport, such as the availability of suitable playgrounds, availability of suitable tools, and coaches (and) referees,” he said. “To be honest, the number is too small but we are currently working on that. We are also working on many championships, especially at school level, which will have one very soon.”

Al-Sayari also revealed that the federation is working on establishing a Gulf region championship in December 2022, having already reached out to willing neighboring countries. They are currently working on a location and budget, he said.

But growing the game and increasing the number of participants is a long-term project with plenty of challenges for Al-Sayari and his colleagues.

“We are trying our best to overcome these obstacles,” he said. “However, taking into consideration that the federation is new and hasn’t even completed one year yet, we have established five championships in which four to five teams have participated from different regions in the Kingdom.”

“The game has started to grow, and we also have a female team now and we are working on expanding it,” Al-Sayari added. “As for the men’s teams, we have already reached the maximum number of players we planned for, but the challenge here is finding suitable coaches to support coach Ahmed Abdo (technical director of the federation).”

“Currently we have four other assistant coaches who are being trained and also working on training some teachers in the schools to become coaches in the future. We are trying our best to overcome all of these obstacles and hoping by the end of this year to reach at least 40 to 50 percent of our plan.”

Participation is coming from unexpected sources.

Adwa Al-Hunaidi and her daughter Meshael have been taking part in the sessions since they discovered they were open to females.

“Meshael initiated the idea of joining the field hockey program because she was the one who was interested,” said Adwa.

“To start with, what we had in mind when we first came was to enroll my son Yousef, that’s when we found out that girls can join too. And the coach made it clear to us that mothers (and) adults can join too,” said Adwa.

She said they were really “excited” and now all three of them have joined up. “We really loved the idea since we have always been fond of sports.”

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For Saudi fan, road to World Cup is a desert trek

For Saudi fan, road to World Cup is a desert trek
Updated 06 October 2022

For Saudi fan, road to World Cup is a desert trek

For Saudi fan, road to World Cup is a desert trek
  • Alsulmi says the journey, faithfully documented for his thousands of Snapchat followers, is meant to highlight regional enthusiasm for the first World Cup in the Middle East
  • Alsulmi hopes that by posting about his experience, he can inspire other Saudis to consider trekking through their homeland

AL-KHASRAH, SAUDI ARABIA: The idea hit Abdullah Alsulmi earlier this year, while he was watching a television show in which a senior Qatari official promised an “exceptional” experience at the upcoming World Cup.

His excitement building, the 33-year-old Saudi recalls thinking: “I will go to Doha no matter what, even if I have to walk!“

It was an unlikely beginning to what has become an audacious adventure dismissed by some of Alsulmi’s own relatives as “crazy“: A two-month, 1,600-kilometer (1,000-mile) solo trek from his native Jeddah to the Qatari capital.

Alsulmi says the journey, faithfully documented for his thousands of Snapchat followers, is meant to highlight regional enthusiasm for the first World Cup in the Middle East — which Saudi officials have pitched as a milestone “for all Arabs.” 

“We want to support the World Cup,” Alsulmi told AFP one day last week as he sheltered from the midday sun near roadside shrubs in the town of Al-Khasrah, 340 kilometers southwest of Riyadh.

Wearing a wide-brim hat and a backpack to which he’d affixed Saudi and Qatari flags, he said: “I consider myself like a Qatari who is very interested in this World Cup and its success.”

Alsulmi has experience with extended treks in Canada and Australia, where he used to live, yet those pale in comparison to the rigors of traversing the Arabian Peninsula.

He typically sets out at sunrise and walks until 10 or 10:30 a.m., but then the heat forces him to break for a few hours before resuming in the afternoon and continuing until sundown.

Occasionally he walks at night to maintain his goal of around 35 kilometers per day.

To keep his load light, Alsulmi subsists on food he can buy at petrol stations, often chicken and rice, while showering and washing his clothes at mosques.

His social media posts capture details of life on the trail, from the mundane to the menacing: His nightly search for a spot to sleep, and the time he eyed a scorpion dozing dangerously close to his tent.

He also records conversations with Saudis he meets along the way, many of whom offer snacks and juice to keep him going.

“There are moments of ups and downs, but when I meet people and hear these sweet words — ‘We will follow you on your account and support you’ — this encourages me to finish,” he said.

Straying from the main roads as often as he can, he says he has been rewarded with a taste of the varied scenery on offer in the Kingdom — something he didn’t fully appreciate before.

“Walking from Jeddah to Doha, every 100 kilometers is different. I mean, the first 100 kilometers there are sand dunes, then mountains, and then comes empty land, then farms,” he said.

“I am going through all terrains in one country in two months. This is a beautiful thing.”

Alsulmi hopes that by posting about his experience, he can inspire other Saudis to consider trekking through their homeland.

“When I do this, I want to convey to people that hiking and walking is a beautiful sport, even if the weather is difficult here in Saudi Arabia, even if the terrain is difficult. We can do it,” he said.

“It is a sport for simple people. You only need a bag and a few simple things, and a tent and nature.”

If all goes according to plan, Alsulmi will arrive in Doha in time for Saudi Arabia’s opening showdown against Argentina on Nov. 22.

It will be a moment of divided loyalty, since Argentina is his favorite team.

Four days later, he has a ticket for the Green Falcons’ match against Poland.

His hopes are high for a Saudi squad that has now qualified for six World Cups but advanced to the knockout stage just once, during its 1994 debut.

“This year we have good players. The coach is the great French coach (Herve) Renard,” he said.

“We expect and hope that this year the team will deliver an exceptional performance.”