5 things to look out for as Saudi Pro League returns to action

5 things to look out for as Saudi Pro League returns to action
It goes without saying that after losing earlier in the week Al-Hilal have to win at home to have even the slimmest chance of catching Al-Ittihad. (File/AFP)
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Updated 06 May 2022

5 things to look out for as Saudi Pro League returns to action

5 things to look out for as Saudi Pro League returns to action
  • After a quiet April due to AFC Champions League action and Ramadan break, there are plenty of issues to be resolved at the top and bottom of the league table

It has been a stop and start season in the Saudi Professional League but it got moving again on Thursday as Al-Ahli drew 2-2 with Al-Batin and Al-Ettifaq climbed out of the bottom three by thrashing Al-Taawoun in a relegation six pointer. There is still plenty of action to come in the next few days and here are five talking points.

Only Al-Ittihad can stop Al-Ittihad winning title

With 14 wins out of their 16 last games, it is no surprise that Al-Ittihad are in control of the title race. There were eyebrows raised in Jeddah on Tuesday evening as their closest challengers, Al-Hilal, slipped up and lost to Al-Feiha — one of the defending champions’ two games in hand. It means that the Tigers have to collect just eight points from their remaining five games regardless of what Al-Hilal do. A first title since 2009 is within reach and defeating Al-Fateh will be a massive step towards the championship.

While Al-Hilal have been busy in Asia, Al-Ittihad have played a couple of friendlies and should be fit and raring to go. Long-time absentee Ahmed Hegazi is finally back. The Egyptian centre-back, perhaps the best in the league, hasn’t played since picking up an injury in the African Cup of Nations in January, but is fit again. With the cushion that the leaders have, coach Cosmin Contra may not bring the 31-year-old straight into the team and can afford to be patient. He also has a wealth of attacking options.

It is looking very good and the only team that can stop Al-Ittihad is Al-Ittihad. They are almost there and just have to keep their nerve against a team that theoretically is not safe from relegation on paper but in practice does not have much to play for.

Al-Faisaly need to bring Asian form to the league

The men from Dammam took a break from their relegation scrap to finish top of their Asian Champions League group last month, finishing above big guns such as Al-Sadd. It was an impressive achievement and should boost their confidence as they look to preserve their top-flight status. Their league form had improved with seven points coming from the last three games but they are just two points above the drop zone and need to be careful.

New signing Martin Boyle impressed in Asia and the Australian winger provides another outlet for a team that sometimes has problems finding the target. If Boyle can maintain his early promise and the backline, which conceded just four times in six Asian games, can stay tight, then all should be well.

The Riyadh derby is a big one

It is hard to know which is better preparation for the final few games of the season. Is it better to do what Al-Shabab did and play six games in the Asian Champions League? Or to rest and play some friendlies, as Al-Nassr have done? As things stand Al-Nassr are third and Al-Shabab fourth, just a point behind. After Al-Hilal’s defeat, the winner of this game will go into second place.

Al-Shabab’s form at home prior to the continental action was a little patchy, but under new coach Marius Sumudica they return to league action full of confidence after collecting 16 points out of 18, more than any other in the group stage. That should stand the team in good stead heading into this major clash.

Al-Nassr are likely to provide a tougher test than the recent Asian ones, however. They may be without star striker Vincent Aboubakar due to injury and there are doubts as to whether Uruguayan forward Jonathan Rodriguez will be fit but there is still plenty of talent in the yellow ranks. It should be quite a game.

Big game for Al-Hilal and Damac

It goes without saying that after losing earlier in the week Al-Hilal have to win at home to have even the slimmest chance of catching Al-Ittihad. The clash is not all about the Asian champions, however. It is a massive one for Damac who will want to end an amazing season on a high. They are going to finish at least fifth and achieve their highest finish in the league, though they are not going to match those heady days a third of the way through the season when they were top.

A run of just two wins in 10 saw the team slide out of the top four but they have recovered to win four of the last five with the one defeat coming against the leaders. There is still a faint chance of getting back into the top four as they are only five points behind Al-Shabab. But the important thing is to end the season with a good run of form and start building for the next campaign.

Relegation scrap is one of the fiercest ever

There are plenty of leagues around the world that are approaching the final stretches of the season. Few though can have the kind of intense bottom half battle that is going on in Saudi Arabia.

With most teams having five games left, it is theoretically possible for any outside the top five to go down. That is unlikely but any of the eight teams in the bottom half of the table could be in for the dreaded drop. Al-Raed are in ninth and just four points clear of trouble. They can’t relax. Only Al-Hazm are cut adrift at the bottom. It would be a brave person indeed who predicted which two of the other seven clubs will join them in the second tier. The great thing for the neutral is that a lot of these teams are playing each other in the coming games so the drama should continue right until the end.

Tickets for NBA Abu Dhabi games 2022 featuring Atlanta Hawks, Milwaukee Bucks on sale June 30

Tickets for NBA Abu Dhabi games 2022 featuring Atlanta Hawks, Milwaukee Bucks on sale June 30
Lou Williams (#6) of the Atlanta Hawks shoots the ball during a game against the Milwaukee Bucks on Nov. 14, 2021. (Getty)
Updated 28 June 2022

Tickets for NBA Abu Dhabi games 2022 featuring Atlanta Hawks, Milwaukee Bucks on sale June 30

Tickets for NBA Abu Dhabi games 2022 featuring Atlanta Hawks, Milwaukee Bucks on sale June 30
  • 4-time NBA Champion, Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal named official NBA Abu Dhabi Games 2022 ambassador

LONDON/ABU DHABI: The National Basketball Association and Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi have announced that tickets for the NBA Abu Dhabi Games 2022 will go on general sale on Thursday, June 30.

The games will feature the Atlanta Hawks and the 2021 NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks playing two preseason games at Etihad Arena on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi on Thursday, Oct. 6 and Saturday, Oct. 8, marking the league’s first games in the UAE and the Arabian Gulf.

Special ticket packages offering premium access, VIP experiences, hospitality, and local hotel accommodation will also be available for purchase at NBAEvents.com/AbuDhabi from June 30.

As part of the announcement, the league also named four-time NBA champion and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame star Shaquille O’Neal as the official NBA Abu Dhabi Games 2022 ambassador.

In this capacity, O’Neal, who was selected to the NBA 75th anniversary team in October as the league tipped off its landmark 75th anniversary season, will attend the games, participate in youth development programming, and interact with local fans during the week.

The NBA will also become the first North American sports league to launch social media channels in Arabic on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (@NBAArabic), providing comprehensive in-language news and content for fans in the region and around the world beginning June 30.

The Hawks currently feature two-time NBA All-Star Trae Young, 2020-21 NBA rebounding leader Clint Capela, and 2018 NBA All-Rookie Second Team members John Collins and Bogdan Bogdanovic.

The Bucks meanwhile have two-time Kia NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, three-time NBA All-Star Khris Middleton, and four-time NBA All-Defensive Team member Jrue Holiday. The two teams met in the 2021 Eastern Conference Finals, with the Bucks going on to win their first NBA championship in 50 years.

The Abu Dhabi event will air live in the UAE and throughout the Middle East and North Africa on beIN SPORTS, The Sports Channel, and NBA League Pass, the league’s premium live-game subscription service. The games will reach fans in more than 200 countries and territories around the world on television, digital media, and social media.

They are part of a groundbreaking multiyear partnership between the NBA and DCT Abu Dhabi that earlier this year saw the launch of the first Jr. NBA Abu Dhabi League, a youth basketball league for 450 boys and girls aged between 11 and 14 from local schools in Abu Dhabi. The partnership also includes a variety of interactive fan events featuring appearances by current and former NBA players, a series of NBA FIT clinics promoting health and wellness, and an NBA 2K League exhibition event at Middle East Film and Comic Con.

The partnership will also see DCT Abu Dhabi, under the Visit Abu Dhabi banner, the tourism promotion initiative of the UAE’s capital city, serve as an official tourism destination partner of the NBA in the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, and China.

More than 220 male and female prospects from the Middle East – including five players from the UAE – have participated in Basketball Without Borders or NBA Academy, the league’s elite basketball development programs for top prospects from outside the US.

Since 2019, more than 500 boys and girls have also participated in the NBA Basketball School Dubai (UAE), a year-round, tuition-based basketball development program for six- to 18-year-olds.

Saudi-backed LIV Golf signs rising stars Matthew Wolff, Eugenio Chacarra and Carlos Ortiz

Saudi-backed LIV Golf signs rising stars Matthew Wolff, Eugenio Chacarra and Carlos Ortiz
23-year-old Matthew Wolff has quickly established himself among the game’s top competitors. (File/AFP)
Updated 28 June 2022

Saudi-backed LIV Golf signs rising stars Matthew Wolff, Eugenio Chacarra and Carlos Ortiz

Saudi-backed LIV Golf signs rising stars Matthew Wolff, Eugenio Chacarra and Carlos Ortiz
  • All three make their debut in Portland, the tour’s second event

DUBAI: The Saudi-backed LIV Golf company has announced that rising star Matthew Wolff, world number two amateur Eugenio Chacarra and international standout Carlos Ortiz are officially joining the tour and will tee off in Portland.

The field is now set for the LIV Golf Invitational Portland, the new organization’s second event of the season taking place from June 30 to July 2 at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club in Oregon. LIV Golf is funded by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.


One of golf’s longest hitters off the tee, the 23-year-old Wolff has quickly established himself among the game’s top competitors. An All-American at Oklahoma State University and winner of the 2019 NCAA Division I individual championship, Wolff turned professional in 2019 and secured his first win less than one month later. He has continued to make an impact within golf’s elite, reaching a career-best number 12 in the world in October 2020 and earning seven top-10 finishes, including runner-up at the US Open and fourth at the PGA Championship.

World ranked number two amateur Eugenio Chacarra will make his first appearance as a professional with LIV Golf. The 22-year-old is a two-time All-American at Oklahoma State University, where he was a finalist for both the Ben Hogan Award and the Haskins Award as the NCAA’s top collegiate golfer. The number one amateur from Spain, Chacarra made 14 collegiate starts in 2021-22, winning three times with six additional top-six finishes.

Ortiz, winner of four professional tournaments worldwide, has been a standout since turning professional in 2014. He has spent 80 weeks of his career ranked in the top 100 and reached 44th in the world in February 2021. Born in Guadalajara, Mexico and a collegiate golfer at the University of North Texas, Ortiz represented his country at the 2021 Tokyo Summer Olympics.

“Our impressive roster of LIV golfers continues to grow with incredible young talent and international stars. Matthew Wolff and Eugenio Chacarra have both made a name for themselves as two of golf’s most promising talents, exhibiting impressive success at an early age. I’m eager to watch them play alongside Carlos Ortiz, one of Mexico’s most consistent pros who along with many of our other golfers represents LIV Golf’s continued commitment to growing the game on a global scale,” said Greg Norman, CEO and commissioner of LIV Golf. “LIV Golf is providing new opportunities for the best players in the world to compete, and our field in Portland reflects that. We can’t wait to kick off our first US event with these incredible golfers.”

The Portland field will showcase nine of the last 21 major winners, four former world number one players and nearly half of its competitors currently ranked in the top 100. The global field represents 12 different countries and a combined 20 major titles, as well as future stars of the game who earned NCAA National Championships, US Amateur Championships and professional tour wins among their accomplishments. Players will compete in golf’s most exciting new format for $25 million and the chance to become the second individual and team champions for LIV Golf.

The LIV Golf Invitational Portland offer opportunities for golfers from around the world including the Asian Tour, DP World Tour, PGA Tour, Sunshine Tour, PGA Tour of Australasia and Japan Golf Tour, as well as leading players from The International Series, which launched in Thailand in March, and top finishers from the LIV Golf Invitational Series. LIV Golf will continue to reward players that compete and perform well in its events, with a broad spectrum of exemption categories designed to ensure it delivers new opportunities for international golfers, as well as pathways for amateurs and the next generation of leading players, into elite professional golf.

The 48-man field in Portland will play across 12 teams of four players each. Teams for Portland will be announced on Tuesday, June 28.

The LIV Golf Invitational Series launched June 9 to a worldwide audience showcasing its new, innovative format with more action, shotgun starts and no cut.

Tennis star Ons Jabeur is ‘boosting sport in Arab and African countries’

Tennis star Ons Jabeur is ‘boosting sport in Arab and African countries’
Updated 28 June 2022

Tennis star Ons Jabeur is ‘boosting sport in Arab and African countries’

Tennis star Ons Jabeur is ‘boosting sport in Arab and African countries’
  • Abundance of talent but development needed, says Emirati tennis pundit Khalid Al-Ali
  • Veteran commentator outlines his thoughts on Wimbledon title contenders this year

DUBAI: Only hours before Tunisian tennis superstar Ons Jabeur launched her Wimbledon 2022 campaign against Sweden’s Mirjam Bjorklund, she was confirmed as world number two, the highest ranking of her career.

It was also the highest ever for an African or Arab tennis player, female or male.

For Emirati tennis pundit Khalid Al-Ali, Jabeur and other female players from North Africa are helping to raise the profile and popularity of tennis like never before.

“You can split the Arab world in two, and the Maghreb countries, like Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria, in addition to Egypt, are very advanced in tennis,” he said. “As well as Ons, there is the Egyptian player Mayar Sherif, who has ranked in the sixties. And that is also proof that women’s tennis is more advanced at this point in time than the men’s, where no one has reached these levels.”

As a tennis lover, Al-Ali enjoys, in particular at this time of the year, the established traditions that Wimbledon holds dear, and the intense rivalry on court for the men’s and women’s titles, which is this year tinged by a possible changing of the guard and politics.

“Wimbledon started in 1877, it has such rich heritage,” he said. “Traditions such as wearing all white, and having no advertising hoarding around the courts, have been maintained until now. There are changes this year, however. Players used to enter the courts from the side but this year there is a new tradition and the players will be making their entrance from the middle of the court.

“Also, it’s the first time that Wimbledon’s center court has been opened for practice before the start of the tournament. Traditionally, no one was allowed to step on (center) court before the first official match, so those are two new additions.”

But perhaps the biggest change this year is one of personnel.

“For the first time in 24 years, Roger Federer will miss the championship,” said Al-Ali. “So that differentiates this edition, as does the banning of Russian players. For that reason, the ATP has withdrawn all points that would have been awarded, as they see that as politics interfering with sports.

In Federer’s absence, eyes will, once again, inevitably turn to reigning champion Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, now ranked third and fourth in the world.

“Djokovic has won the last three tournaments, and logically, on grass he is the first seed,” Al-Ali said. “After that as always, Nadal, even when we don’t consider him a favorite, imposes himself on the tournament like we saw in Roland Garros. Before Roland Garros he had lost in Roma to Denis Shapovalov, the Canadian.

“And there were doubts that it would be his last tournament, as his body can’t take the injuries anymore. But he won it and now his confidence is high, and he hopes to achieve something that Novak almost managed but couldn’t. That is the Golden Grand Slam, winning all four (majors) in the same year. He’s already won in Australia and Roland Garros. He enters Wimbledon with his dream still alive.”

“Last year Djokovic won the Australian Open, then Roland Garros and Wimbledon, and headed to the US Open with high hopes of achieving something that only Rod Laver, the Australian player, had managed. He did it twice, once before professionalism, which did not count in the record books, but he came back to do it again after the Second World War.”

Djokovic lost the US Open final in straight sets to Daniil Medvedev. That setback and the unsavory episode at the Australian Open — when he was detained because he had not been vaccinated for COVID-19 — were big blows to his morale.

“But he has a great chance to hit back at Wimbledon,” Al-Ali said. “Also among the favorites will be (Stefanos) Tsitsipas, (Matteo) Berrettini, who won two grass tournaments this year, and who was the losing Wimbledon finalist last year against Djokovic. You can narrow it down to those players.”

“Andy Murray returns as a wild card as he has low ranking,” Al-Ali added. “Physically he might not be ready, but playing in front of his crowd could see (him) adapt.”

In the women’s competition, Wimbledon welcomes back the great Serena Williams, who, with 23 Grand Slam titles, still has hopes of equaling the women’s record of 24 held by Margaret Court.

“Serena Williams returns as a wild card after a long absence,” said Al-Ali. “She played a doubles (game) with Ons Jabeur at Eastbourne, where they reached the semifinal, but Ons had to withdraw through injury. It was a slight injury but she didn’t want to aggravate it ahead of Wimbledon.

“Williams looked heavier and was not the Serena we are used to. But she still has a shot or two that’s suited to grass, so she could possibly advance along with the favorites.

“Of course, (world number one) Iga Swiatek is among the favorites, and so is the Swiss player (Belinda) Bencic. And then there is the return of Petra Kvitova who won at Eastbourne, and has been Wimbledon champion twice.”

“In women’s tennis there are always surprises,” Al-Ali said.

Jabeur, though now the world number two is seeded third at Wimbledon, and the Emirati commentator has high hopes for her despite the heightened level of expectation.

“She reached the quarterfinals last year, which was her best performance in a Grand Slam,” said Al-Ali. “She is under a lot of pressure, but she is playing wonderfully, and her style suits grass. We might just see her in the final.”

Another run into the latter rounds, and her army of fans in the Arab world — not to mention her hero status — will continue to grow. For Al-Ali, it is hoped that her achievements, and those of other African Arabs, will one day spread to the rest of the Middle East.

“Geographical location always plays a role, whether in sports or any other field,” he said. “Proximity, costs, mentality, being close to the heart of this sport. It’s a sport that started in France and was then (organized by the) English. At its heart, there is a certain lifestyle, many sacrifices for the players, especially female players. But we see the Moroccans, Algerians, Tunisians and Egyptians excel in this sport. And of course the size of the population is a factor. They have experienced this education earlier than in this region.”

In the UAE and the GCC, the popularity of tennis continues to grow, thanks to the increasing numbers of events taking place, he said.

“Thankfully, things are improving here. All the world’s best players come here to Dubai, so the popularity of the sport has increased,” said Al-Ali. “What Ons is doing is similar to what happened in China. China is a massive and great country, but tennis only became popular after Li Na won two Grand Slams, at Roland Garros and the Australian Open. After that, the country started to pay attention.”

“So we hope that with Ons Jabeur, and after the rise of the three Moroccans Karim Alami, Hicham Arazi and Younes El Aynaoui, more will come,” he added. “There is Abdullah Shelbayh from Jordan who is playing at junior level at Wimbledon, and has won the doubles there. He trains at Rafael Nadal’s academy, I have high hope for him.”

With the right backing and funding, Al-Ali is certain the future will see more Arab tennis players follow in Jabeur’s footsteps.

“We are always optimistic,” he said. “We have a beautiful academy in Fujairah, established by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, and I’m on the board of directors there. When Ons Jabeur was a junior she played in the tournament there after it entered the ITF ranks, and Alexander Zverev won at Fujairah as well.

“We are no strangers to organizing the best tournaments in this region, what we have to do now is introduce development programs, we don’t have any clear programs at the moment. Also there is a lack of equality in funding between sports. We have to make sure individual sports like tennis are backed just like football.”

Noon.com to become Newcastle shirt sponsor

Noon.com to become Newcastle shirt sponsor
Updated 28 June 2022

Noon.com to become Newcastle shirt sponsor

Noon.com to become Newcastle shirt sponsor
  • Deal of about $9.2m per season is the biggest signed by the Magpies
  • The brand will be displayed on all team kits at home and away games

NEWCASTLE: Newcastle United have announced a record-breaking deal for Middle East-based noon.com to become the club’s official shirt sleeve sponsor.

The trademark yellow insignia of the Middle East’s leading online shopping company will be emblazoned across the club’s home, away and third shirts for the 2022/23 Premier League season.

And Arab News understands the deal, worth around $9.2 million per season, is the biggest like-for-like agreement signed by the Magpies, bettering last season’s tie-up with Kayak, an American online travel agency. It’s understood Newcastle pocketed around $6.1 million last season.

In a statement confirming the news, United said: “Newcastle United is delighted to confirm that noon.com has become the club’s official sleeve partner for the 2022/23 Premier League season.

“Operating online and via its hugely popular app, noon.com is the region’s leading digital e-commerce platform for fashion, electronics, beauty, groceries, home and baby products.

“The partnership will provide the club with new ways to engage with fans in the Middle East, with supporters in the region able to pre-order all 2022/23 Newcastle United kits on noon.com with the option of personalization.

“The noon.com brand will be displayed on all team kits for the upcoming season, as well as having a presence on matchdays at St. James’ Park and across the club’s digital assets.”

The deal represents a major step forward for United, whose new majority owners the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia have been keen to increase commercial revenues following nearly 15 years of stagnation in that department under previous custodian Mike Ashley, of sportswear retailer Sports Direct.

The partnership puts Newcastle’s shirt sleeve sponsorship fee closer to other leading rivals in the Premier League, although it remains below the estimated $12 million earned by the likes of Manchester City and Manchester United.

Ali Kafil-Hussain, chief of staff at noon.com, said: “We are extremely proud to become a key strategic partner of Newcastle United, one of the most famous clubs in world football.

“We look forward to working with Newcastle United as a club with a strong sense of community and a vibrant history.

He said noon.com “prioritizes creating a sense of belonging among our communities: Customers, sellers, business partners, and employees. We’re excited to work with the club to promote community spirit in the Middle East and beyond, and we look forward to future successes both on and off the field.”

Dale Aitchison, head of commercial partnerships at Newcastle United, said that noon.com was a “hugely successful and influential brand in the Middle East and we are very pleased to team up to offer supporters in the region with new ways to engage with the club.

“One way we can achieve that is by creating a fast, efficient and effective way for fans in the region to order official Newcastle United merchandise, and we are delighted fans can utilize noon.com to proudly wear their kits for the new season.”

Newcastle United’s shirt for next season can be bought at noon.com in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Female referee at men’s World Cup wants the game to shine

Female referee at men’s World Cup wants the game to shine
Updated 28 June 2022

Female referee at men’s World Cup wants the game to shine

Female referee at men’s World Cup wants the game to shine
  • Yamashita is one of three women picked by FIFA to be referees at the men’s World Cup in Qatar, which opens on Nov. 21

TOKYO: Japanese referee Yoshimi Yamashita agrees with Pelé or whoever it was decades ago that first described soccer as the “beautiful game.”
Yamashita is one of three women picked by FIFA to be referees at the men’s World Cup in Qatar, which opens on Nov. 21. It’s the first time a woman will be in charge on soccer’s largest stage.
She sees her job this way: Let the game shine, as it should.
“One of the big goals as a referee is to bring out the the attractiveness of soccer,” she said Monday in Tokyo in an interview with the Associated Press. “I do my best for that, and I will do what I should at that time toward that end. So if I need to communicate with the players, I will do that. If I need to show a card, I will show a card. Rather than control, I’m thinking about what to do toward the big goal of bringing out the appeal of soccer.”
Stéphanie Frappart of France and Salima Mukansanga of Rwanda are the other women who were selected. There are 36 referees in total. FIFA has also named three female assistant referees in a pool of 69: Neuza Back of Brazil, Karen Diaz Medina of Mexico, and Kathryn Nesbitt of the United States.
Though it’s likely all three will be in charge of games, it’s not a given. They would also be used as so-called “fourth referees” on the sidelines. However, they cannot be used as assistants.
“Each match official will be carefully monitored in the next months with a final assessment on technical, physical and medical aspects to be made shortly before the World Cup,” Massimo Busacca, FIFA’s director of refereeing, said in a statement.
Yamashita’s selection puts the focus on Japan’s low ranking on most measures of equal pay for women, and in global studies of gender equality.
Only 14.3 percent of the seats in Japan’s national legislature are held by women — 152nd of 190 countries in a study published several months ago by the US Congressional Research Service. Another study on the gender pay gap placed Japan 120th of 156 countries.
“I would be very happy if women could play an active role in sports in this way, and if sports and especially soccer could lead this,” Yamashita said. “In Japan, there is still a long way to go in the world of soccer (regarding participation of women), so it would be great if this could connect to promotion of female participation in different ways, not only in soccer or in sports.”
Women’s soccer has led the way in Japan. Japanese women won the 2011 women’s World Cup, were runners-up in 2015, and have been been consistently among the game’s elite teams.
Yamashita went through a workout on Monday just outside Tokyo, sweltering in temperatures that reached 35 C (95 F). She laughed when she was reminded that games in Qatar — located on a tip of the Arabian Peninsula — will be much cooler, being played in the Northern Hemisphere winter and in air-conditioned stadiums.
Yamashita seemed relaxed during the interview, removed from the obvious pressure. She has been a referee in Japan’s men’s J League, and has also been in charge of the Asian equivalent of the men’s Champions League. She also handled matches during last year’s Tokyo Olympics.
“Of course, I think the pressure is huge,” she said, “and I think I have a lot of responsibility. But I am really happy to take this duty and pressure, so I try to take it positively and I try to be happy.”
She described the excitement of leaving the waiting room just before a match.
“I guess it cheers me up in that moment. I feel like that’s when I switch gears the most,” she said.
She said the difference in the men’s and women’s game was, of course, speed. But not simply that some men might run faster.
“It’s the speed, but not just the players’ speed,” she said. “Not the ball speed. It’s just the game speed. It means for me I have to make quicker decisions — more speed.”
Yamashita conducted most of the interview in Japanese, but said she would use English and “facial gestures, body gestures” when communicating with players in Qatar.
“Usually when I give a card, I say nothing,” she said, shifting to English. “But when I give a warning, I just tell them I’m not happy. They understand.”