How COVID-19 brought cricketers’ mental health issues to the fore

How COVID-19 brought cricketers’ mental health issues to the fore
One view was that the new isolation had been the straw which broke the camel’s back in terms of players having the mental ability to cope with the fatigue from yet another bio-bubble. (File/AFP)
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Updated 30 June 2022

How COVID-19 brought cricketers’ mental health issues to the fore

How COVID-19 brought cricketers’ mental health issues to the fore
  • The sport has long had a reticence to confront these concerns, and despite being better remunerated, players face greater pressure than ever before

On Friday, England will host India at Edgbaston, Birmingham, in a Test match which was initially scheduled to start last year, Sept. 10, at Old Trafford, Manchester, but had been delayed over COVID-19 concerns.

That game did not take place because of an overnight decision by the Indian party, fearful about COVID-19 spreading through its camp, to declare this had a significant impact on their ability to field a team. This was despite none of the players testing positive the day before the game. It was members of support staff who had done so, resulting in players isolating in their hotel rooms. Minutes before the gates were due to open at 9 a.m., news of the cancellation seeped out, to the dismay, disbelief and disappointment of all those involved, except the Indians, it seemed.

They left England over the following two days to fly to the UAE, where the Indian Premier League was due to resume on Sept. 19, having been curtailed halfway through in early-May because of COVID-19 concerns in India. The Indian team’s decision in Manchester split the cricketing world. One view was that, coming on top of months of isolation during the pandemic, the new isolation had been the straw which broke the camel’s back in terms of players having the mental ability to cope with the fatigue from yet another bio-bubble.

An alternative view, vigorously denied, was that the fear of catching the virus, so close to the resumption of the IPL, would mean that the players would not have been able to take their places in their team bubbles until after quarantine requirements had been satisfied in the UAE. The Board of Control for Cricket in India specified six days of quarantine. Thus, leaving England between Sept. 11 and 12 gave them just enough time to play in the IPL on Sept. 19, whereas leaving on Sept. 14 and 15 would not have allowed this. There were also issues over whether the cancellation, over COVID-19 concerns, would be covered by insurance; or if the game had to be declared forfeited.

Feelings ran high in both camps. It was not until Oct. 22, 2021, that a resolution was announced under which the match would be played between July 1 and 5, 2022 but at a different venue, Birmingham, rather than the original one in Manchester. The official reason was that, because of other events, there would be insufficient time to prepare a pitch at Manchester. The move also took out of the equation the possibility of any residual ill-will existing there. Nevertheless, it is scant consolation for ticketholders of the original match, who are not able to watch the rearranged one, nor local traders who lost business. Manchester will host South Africa in August.

There has been almost no public commentary on the substance of the negotiations between the Indian and English cricket boards, the implications of the agreement for insurance claims, and also the conditions under which India agreed to play. The match will complete the four-match series, with India holding a 2-1 advantage. Since September 2021, the two teams have undergone shifting fortunes. Both have different captains and coaches. After desperately poor performances in Australia and the West Indies, England have been re-energized by new management, having beaten New Zealand 3-0 in a Test series, which ended last Monday.

India was beaten 2-1 by South Africa in a three match Test series in December 2021/January 2022, after which its highly successful captain, Virat Kohli, resigned, following tensions with the BCCI. Under his successor, Rohit Sharma, India beat Sri Lanka in a two match Test series in February 2022. It is ironic that he has tested positive for COVID-19 prior to the upcoming Test and, with the appointed vice-captain ruled out by injury, the Indians have appointed a pace bowler, Jasprit Bumrah, as captain, in an unusual move.

What is clear is that COVID-19 continues to impact not only this series but cricket, in general. The mental health and well-being issues cited by the Indian camp last September have also applied to other cricketers during the pandemic. The new England captain, Ben Stokes, took a break from the game in July 2021 to deal with his own issues, thus missing the series against India. It is another quirk of fate that he joins the series for the final match.

By its very nature, cricket has long had an uneasy relationship with mental health and a reticence to confront it. Cricketers spend much time alone, both on and off the pitch, with ample opportunities for reflection and rumination. Worries about form, technique and injury can generate self-doubt, which can be preyed upon by opponents. This scope for introspection has received impetus from experiences generated by the pandemic. These have created abnormal relations with families, friends, teammates, spectators, opponents and media. They have been superimposed upon the normal issues which confront cricketers performing as individuals within a team environment.

Cricket has also attracted attention as a sport which, since the early 20th Century, has allegedly suffered a higher-than-average proportion of suicides by professional players. Studies of these cases have sought to uncover the role that cricket may have played. The evidence is inconclusive, because of small sample sizes, a lack of rigorous data collection and a lack of clarity about causes of death. The only linkages seem to be that the individuals had either depressive histories and/or health/financial problems in their post-playing days that brought them to their ultimate decision.

Cricketers are now better remunerated but the pressures to perform seem greater. Some former professional cricketers have talked openly about this subject, yet reluctance to reach out for help still appears to exist, despite increasing avenues of support becoming available. Although the extent that mental health issues contributed to the decision at Manchester last September remains opaque, a new awareness of their impact has been created. Acknowledgement should not be regarded as weakness. Cricket has a fresh opportunity to systemically address them across its realm.


Five things we learned from Saudi Arabia’s triumph at 2022 Arab Cup U-20

Five things we learned from Saudi Arabia’s triumph at 2022 Arab Cup U-20
Updated 08 August 2022

Five things we learned from Saudi Arabia’s triumph at 2022 Arab Cup U-20

Five things we learned from Saudi Arabia’s triumph at 2022 Arab Cup U-20
  • Young Green Falcons beat Egypt 5-3 on penalties after two hours of play ends in 1-1 draw

On Sunday, Saudi Arabia defeated Egypt 5-3 on penalties to win the 2022 Arab Cup U-20 after two hours of football ended 1-1, retaining the title they won in Cairo last year, becoming the record holders of the competition with two wins.

Below are five things we learned about the triumph and the tournament.

1. The future is good for Saudi Arabian football

Another tournament win bodes very well for the future. The young Green Falcons won the 2021 Arab Cup U-20, and June’s Asia U-23 Championships. While there is always more focus on the senior side and the upcoming World Cup, the country must be doing something right when it comes to youth development. Having success in major tournaments is not only impressive in its own right, but breeds a winning mentality in the players.

These are unprecedented times. As well as the tournament wins, Al-Hilal are champions of Asia, the Saudi Professional League is thriving and the national team were the best performers in qualification for the World Cup. There is still a lot of hard work to be done in Arab and Asian football, but Saudi Arabia are looking good.

2. Egypt’s penalty curse continues

This year has, so far, been a case of what might have been for Egypt. In the final of the Africa Cup of Nations, the Pharaohs’ senior side lost on penalties to Senegal, and the following month missed out on the World Cup against the same opposition, and by the same method.

Now the youngsters have lost a crucial shootout themsleves. It is always a heartbreaking way to lose a game of football, especially with the trophy within reach. It is to be hoped that this does not become a mental burden for Egypt. Losing three big shootouts in a row is tough to take, and the pressure will now be on for their next one; other big countries, such as the Netherlands and England, have struggled with the mental burden of spot kicks at great cost over the years.

3. Two stars emerge

Abdullah Radif and Salah Basha were not exactly unknown a few weeks ago, but they ended the tournament with their reputations enhanced. Radif belongs to Saudi Arabia and Asian champions Al-Hilal, though the 19-year-old has yet to properly break through for his club.

But with Al-Hilal unable to sign players this summer, the fact that he finished as top scorer with six goals should at least make coach Ramon Diaz consider his potential. There is no harm in giving the teenager more opportunities after showing so much composure here.

Basha, who scored his third goal in the final, is on the books of Italian side Udinese but has yet to make a first-team appearance. Tournament experience may make a difference, but if not, his stature has still grown, and there will be options if he wants to move for more playing time. Whatever happens, he will look back on this tournament fondly, and as the springboard of a fruitful career.

4. Another coaching success

Not long after Saad Al-Shehri led the U-23 team to the Asian title, Saleh Al-Mohammadi delivered a second successive Arab U-20 championship. Nobody could say that the team did not deserve it, scoring more goals and conceding fewer than any other. They beat a talented Iraq team 4-1 in the group stage, fought hard to get past Yemen on penalties in the quarters and then thrashed Palestine 5-0 in the semifinal.

With Saudi Arabian coaches a rare sight in the SPL as clubs look overseas for tacticians, the next time a manager is fired (and it will not take long once the new season starts), club bosses could do a lot worse than look at the domestic talent on offer. Both these coaches have delivered success on the international stage and, at some point, should be given a chance to show what they can do at home.

5. Tournament success will help 2027 bid

The city of Abha has not been regarded as one of Asian football’s main destinations, with Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam grabbing most of the attention. That may have changed a little over the last few weeks, and hosting an 18-team competition is not something to be taken lightly. After all, there are only six more teams at the European Championships.

Everything went smoothly off the pitch and, with COVID-19 still an issue, that is something to celebrate. Every tournament benefits when the host nation reaches the final, as that momentum provides excitement. Tickets for the final sold out quickly.

It will not go unnoticed at the Asian Football Confederation that Abha stepped up. Saudi Arabia has bid for the 2027 Asian Cup and the 2022 Arab Cup U-20, and this will have done the Kingdom’s chances of getting the nod no harm at all.


Great Britain & Ireland secure home win in Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup

Great Britain & Ireland secure home win in Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup
Updated 08 August 2022

Great Britain & Ireland secure home win in Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup

Great Britain & Ireland secure home win in Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup
  • Last year’s winners, The Ladies, finished second in the overall competition with 81 points ahead of Rest of the World in third with 72 points

Great Britain & Ireland beat a strong international field to claim the Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup at Ascot Racecourse on Saturday.

The home team finished with 132 points at the 2022 renewal of the world’s premier international jockeys’ competition.

The Ladies, captained by the competition’s all-time most successful rider Hayley Turner, put down an early marker when Joanna Mason took the opener aboard the William Haggas-trained Amanzoe with a ride that earned her the Dubai Duty Free Ride of the Day award and initiated a treble for the Newmarket trainer. However, last year’s winners could finish only second in the overall competition with 81 points ahead of Rest of the World with 72 points and Europe in fourth place with 51 points.

Winning trainer William Haggas set the tone for the afternoon. “I like this event because it is global,” he said. “That’s why it is so successful.”

Haggas is challenging for the British Champion Trainers’ title this year. “My late father-in-law Lester Piggott was one of the breeders of Amanzoe and we’ll have to look for black type now that she has won this competitive Stakes.”

Haggas’s observation about the meeting’s global reputation was underlined in the next race, the seven furlongs Dubai Duty Free Full of Surprises Stakes. Neil Callan, recently returned from 10 successful years in Hong Kong, and who had ridden a Newmarket treble the night before, drove home Orbaan who had made his way down to Ascot from the northern stable of David O’Meara.

“I’ve ridden against … Christophe Lemaire and Kerrin McEvoy (of the Rest of the World Team) and Frankie Dettori (Europe team captain) around the world,” said Callan. “It’s great to renew old friendships, though out on the track we’re as competitive for our teams as we are as individuals.”

The first two races on the eight-race card were worth £50,000 ($60,000) which stepped up to $91,000 for the remaining six, bringing total prize money for the Dubai Duty Free-sponsored event to $667,000. The third event, the Dubai Duty Free Dash over the minimum trip of five furlongs, was won by Manaccan, the only three-year-old in the race and a horse with a bright future.

Manaccan had the inestimable services of the legendary Turner. Hayley’s father was there to greet her returning to the winner’s circle with which she is so familiar. When Turner won the Holyrood House sprint at Royal Ascot she had Manaccan back in fifth. “Adam Kirby rode him then and he advised me on the best tactics to win today,” said the grateful jockey.

Grateful too was Jamie Spencer for his first ride on moody The Maxwecan in the Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup Stayers run over two miles. Though hardly sighted this year, The Maxwecan was a winner over Ascot’s course and distance three years ago.

There was a bunch finish for the minor placings and even with the introduction of different coloured caps for the runners at the meeting a couple of the runners could not be separated. That complicated the scoring but left the Great Britain & Ireland team with a healthy lead.

After the fourth race, halfway through the card, the scoreboard was beginning to take shape with Great Britain and Ireland stretching into an 18-point lead over the Rest of the World who in turn led The Ladies with Europe trailing.

That lead was extended by the victory of Pride Of Priory, a second on the day for trainer William Haggas and first for jockey Kieren Shoemark in the Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup Challenge over the classic distance of a mile and a half. It extended the Great Britain & Ireland team’s lead to a 31-point gap over the Rest of the World.

“We love to support this event,” said Haggas. “We had the German jockey Rene Piechulek riding for us in an earlier race and though he didn’t win, he came in and gave us a proper run down on the horse. If we have runners in Germany I will be on the phone to him.”

The Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup Mile featured the highest-rated horses of the day and was won by Canadian star Emma-Jayne Wilson on Jungle Cove for Irish trainer Jessica Harrington, who also owns the five-year-old and who flew over for the event, giving The Ladies some hope of challenging Great Britain & Ireland.


France’s BDS beat Saudi’s Falcons to claim Rainbow Six Siege title at Gamers8

France’s BDS beat Saudi’s Falcons to claim Rainbow Six Siege title at Gamers8
Updated 08 August 2022

France’s BDS beat Saudi’s Falcons to claim Rainbow Six Siege title at Gamers8

France’s BDS beat Saudi’s Falcons to claim Rainbow Six Siege title at Gamers8
  • The 3-0 victory at Boulevard Riyadh City saw the winners pocket $400,000, and the runners-up $250,000

RIYADH: BDS of France on Sunday defeated Saudi Arabia’s Falcons to claim the Rainbow Six Siege title at Gamers8 in Riyadh.

The 3-0 victory at Boulevard Riyadh City saw the winners pocket $400,000, while the Saudi team took home $250,000 for finishing in second place.

Germany’s WYLDE won third place and a prize of $155,000, while Brazil’s Liquid came in fourth, winning $155,000.

Falcons had reached the final by defeating WYLDE 2-1, while BDS had won their semifinal against Liquid by a 2-0 score.

Earlier in the competition, Falcons had qualified for the semifinals by beating Brazil’s TSM 2-1 in Group A.

The Saudi team had kicked off their campaign with a 2-0 loss to BDS, but a 2-0 win over MIBR secured a semifinal place.


Ibrahim Al-Marzouki wins Saudi Arabia’s first medal at Islamic Solidarity Games in Turkey

Ibrahim Al-Marzouki wins Saudi Arabia’s first medal at Islamic Solidarity Games in Turkey
Updated 08 August 2022

Ibrahim Al-Marzouki wins Saudi Arabia’s first medal at Islamic Solidarity Games in Turkey

Ibrahim Al-Marzouki wins Saudi Arabia’s first medal at Islamic Solidarity Games in Turkey
  • The paralympic swimmer took bronze in the 50m butterfly at Konya 2022
  • Kingdom’s Olympic star Ali Al-Khadrawi reached the table tennis quarterfinals

Paralympic swimmer Ibrahim Al-Marzouki on Sunday claimed Saudi Arabia’s first medal at the Islamic Solidarity Games in Konya, Turkey.

Al-Marzouki took bronze after finishing third in the 50-meter butterfly final with a time of 49.12 seconds.

Teammate Turki Alharbi finished fourth in the 100 butterfly race with a time of 1 minute, 12.87 seconds, and in the same position in the 400 freestyle race with a time of 5:25.98. The Paralympic swimming competition will continue on Monday.

In the table tennis competition, Saudi Arabia’s Ali Al-Khadrawi, who took part in last year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo, qualified for Monday’s singles quarterfinals after defeating Indonesia’s Ravanel Nikola in three straight sets.

Saudi colleague Abdulaziz Bushlebi was eliminated from the singles competition after losing 3-1 to Denis Zholudev of Tajikistan.

Monday will see the Saudi U-23 football team kick off its campaign against Azerbaijan in Group B, which also includes Morocco and Iran.

The Saudi athletics team will also launch their participation on Monday in six events.

Runners Abdullah Abkar and Mohammed Daoud will participate in the 100 qualifiers, Olympian Yasmine Al-Dabbagh in the women’s 100, and Mohammed Al-Maawi in the 400 hurdles.

Yousef Masrahi and Mazen Al-Yassin will race in the 400 qualifiers, Tariq Al-Omari in the 5000 final, and Rami Mohamed Tolo will take part in the shot-put finals.


Former Man United star Giggs goes on trial for assault

Former Man United star Giggs goes on trial for assault
Updated 08 August 2022

Former Man United star Giggs goes on trial for assault

Former Man United star Giggs goes on trial for assault
  • Giggs is charged with assaulting his former girlfriend, PR executive Kate Greville, causing her bodily harm

LONDON: Former Manchester United star Ryan Giggs stands trial Monday on charges of attacking and coercively controlling his ex-girlfriend, in a case that has upended his managerial career.

The 48-year-old, who until recently served as coach of the Wales national team, has pleaded not guilty to the charges, which carry a maximum jail term of five years.

The jury trial at a crown court in Manchester was set to open at 10:30 am (0930 GMT), presided over by judge Hilary Manley. It is expected to last 10 days.

Giggs is charged with assaulting his former girlfriend, PR executive Kate Greville, causing her actual bodily harm on Nov. 1, 2020, when police were called to his home in the Manchester area.

The Welshman is further charged with common assault of her younger sister, Emma Greville, on the same day.

He also faces a charge of controlling and coercive behavior toward Kate Greville throughout their relationship, which began in 2017 and ended with the alleged assault.

The charge specifies that his behavior toward Greville, 36, included the use of “isolation, belittling, humiliation, harassment, degradation and abuse.”

Giggs was arrested by police at his home in November 2020 and released on bail.

He has denied the allegations and pleaded not guilty at an initial court appearance in April last year.

His trial was due to be heard in January but it was delayed due to a backlog of court cases caused by the Covid pandemic.

Giggs’s lawyer, Chris Daw, has acted for high-profile sports figures including former England and Chelsea football captain John Terry, who was found not guilty of racially abusing fellow player Anton Ferdinand in 2012.

Giggs resigned as the Wales manager in June, after being on leave since his arrest.

He said he did not want “continued interest around this case” to affect the team as it prepares for this year’s World Cup in Qatar.

He remains on conditional bail, and has said he looks forward to “clearing my name.”

A dazzling teenage talent, Giggs ended his career at Old Trafford as the most-decorated player in English football history.

As a player, Giggs made a club-record 963 appearances over 23 years for Manchester United, winning 13 Premier League titles and two Champions League trophies.

He then began his coaching career at Old Trafford, taking temporary charge at the end of the 2013/14 season after David Moyes was sacked before working as an assistant to Louis van Gaal for two years.

Giggs was appointed Wales boss in January 2018 and helped them secure qualification for Euro 2020, just their second major tournament appearance since the 1958 World Cup.

His trial opens shortly before another court case involving a star footballer, Manchester City defender Benjamin Mendy.

The Frenchman is set to go on trial on Wednesday in Chester, northwest England, accused of rape and assault in a case involving seven women.

Mendy, who has been suspended by City, denies the allegations.