Baseball plans to hit home run in Mideast, India and Pakistan

Baseball plans to hit home run in Mideast, India and Pakistan
While baseball has yet to become a global sport, the UIBL hopes it will gain as much popularity in the Middle East as it has in Japan. (File/AFP)
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Updated 26 July 2022

Baseball plans to hit home run in Mideast, India and Pakistan

Baseball plans to hit home run in Mideast, India and Pakistan
  • Pro league launches next February in Dubai with Hall of Fame icons in attendance

NEW YORK: The United International Baseball League has announced a plan to bring professional baseball to India, Pakistan, and the Middle East, beginning with an inaugural showcase in Dubai in February 2023.

The UIBL has partnered with Hall of Fame baseball legends, Mariano Rivera and Barry Larkin — two of the sport’s most iconic and decorated stars, with a combined six World Series Championships and 25 All-Star Game selections — to help build, develop and grow the league.

The Indian Subcontinent and the Middle East region are home to two billion people, with more than 900 million fans of cricket — the world’s most popular bat and ball sport. While baseball exists in small pockets across South Asia and the GCC countries, there is an absence of professional leagues and a void of deep, grassroots player development expertise and infrastructure. The UIBL team is looking to change that.

“I’m very grateful to be a part of the UIBL’s exciting mission to inspire two billion new fans to fall in love with baseball,” said Rivera, professional baseball’s career leader in saves and games finished, and the only player ever unanimously elected to the Hall of Fame. “We believe there is an amazing opportunity to educate, inspire and entertain those cricket fans, and open their hearts to an exciting and culturally relevant form of baseball.”

American baseball is a $13 billion business with nearly 100 million fans across the US and Canada and a rabid following throughout Latin America. However, the game has yet to connect with South Asian and Middle Eastern sports fans, who collectively represent the largest cricket fan base in the world. In South Asia alone, more than 167 million people watched the International Cricket Council T20 World Cup last year — 70 million more than the Super Bowl and over 150 million more than the World Series.

In contrast to baseball’s aging fan base, which has an average age of 57, cricket fans are among the world’s youngest sports fans, with an average age of 34. The UIBL has plans to innovate and evolve the game to help capture and engage this younger, more diverse demographic.

“We want to honor the game, and we want to change it,” said Kanwal S. Sra, founder, chairman and CEO of the UIBL. “We’re excited to help share the beauty and heritage of the game with a part of the world that has yet to fully embrace it. And we’re also excited to do some things differently, acting on years of data, decades of research, and centuries of cultural understanding.

“Most importantly, we are passionate about helping unleash the next generation of Indian, Pakistani, and Emirati sports heroes that millions of fans will be able to connect with and relate to for years to come. There’s no better place in the world to begin this journey than Dubai, one of the most iconic cities in the world. Dubai is driven by exceptional leaders with a shared vision of growth through sports and entertainment, and we are honored to partner with them.”

The UIBL will introduce new rule changes, create original gameplay concepts, and bring to life a more immersive viewing experience for fans at the stadium and home. In addition to innovations in gameplay and entertainment, the UIBL will pioneer a multi-country league format that will include players from across the world and enable international competition. The league has already begun activating its international scouting and South Asia-focused development program, with a vision to partner with exceptional local organizations to build UIBL baseball academies across the region.

“We truly believe that player development has to start at the grassroots level,” said Larkin, winner of nine Silver Slugger awards, three Gold Gloves, and one of only 42 players in history to win a World Series, an MVP award, and be inducted into the Hall of Fame. “I’ve spent the last 20 years of my life focused on helping young people learn the fundamentals of our great game, as well as the fundamentals of great leadership.

“That’s the beauty of baseball — when you teach it the right way with the right conviction, you can help young people succeed on and off the field. I’ve seen it here in the US, I’ve seen it during my time in Brazil, and I’ve witnessed it during my trips to East Asia. Now, I’m very excited to help bring that level of instruction and guidance to India, Pakistan, and the UAE.”

As part of its launch, the UIBL also introduced its brand logo and design, which artistically captures the most exciting moment in baseball — the home run. Each element of the brand is designed to both help educate the region on the game as well as inspire the imagination of younger fans.

“Not many moments in sports measure up to the energy and excitement of a home run,” said Kash Shaikh, president and chief marketing officer of the UIBL. “The crack of the bat. The roar of the crowd. The elevation of the ball met by the rise in the stands. A home run can unite a stadium with a single swing. And it’s done just that for over a century. We wanted to capture that moment, and share some of that magic with a new generation of fans in South Asia and the Middle East. I can’t wait until our fans in Dubai can experience it for themselves.”

The UIBL’s Inaugural Showcase will feature four franchises representing different parts of the world. Franchises, managers, coaches and rosters will be announced at a later date. All Showcase games will be played in Dubai.


Portuguese coach suspended after harassment accusations

Portuguese coach suspended after harassment accusations
Updated 58 min 42 sec ago

Portuguese coach suspended after harassment accusations

Portuguese coach suspended after harassment accusations
  • Famalicão said they were suspending coach Miguel Afonso “until the truth of the facts is ascertained”
  • Público said that it had contacted Afonso but he declined to comment on the accusations

LISBON, Portugal: Portuguese soccer club Famalicão suspended the coach of its women’s team on Friday after a leading newspaper in Portugal published accusations of verbal sexual harassment by him of his players at a previous club.
Famalicão said that “in view” of the report published by Público newspaper that they were suspending coach Miguel Afonso “until the truth of the facts is ascertained.”
The club said they were putting themself at the “total disposition of all parties involved and the competent authorities to assist in obtaining the truth.”
The alleged verbal harassment of players, some of which were 19 years old at the time, reportedly took place while Afonso coached fellow Portuguese club Rio Ave during the 2020-21 season.
Público said that it had contacted Afonso but he declined to comment on the accusations.
In a statement, Rio Ave acknowledged that they had been “aware of some circumstantial comments reported by athletes regarding alleged inappropriate approaches by the coach.”
But, Rio Ave said they took no action because “the coach denied such situations and, at the request of the athletes, the matter was not followed up.”
Famalicão, in a separate statement preceding the suspension of Afonso, said that when they hired Afonso they were not aware of the accusations.


Newcastle sign teenage Australia striker Garang Kuol

Newcastle sign teenage Australia striker Garang Kuol
Updated 30 September 2022

Newcastle sign teenage Australia striker Garang Kuol

Newcastle sign teenage Australia striker Garang Kuol
  • Born in Egypt, Garang Kuol moved to Australia with his family as a refugee and joined the Mariners’ youth system in January 2021

LONDON: Newcastle have reached an agreement to sign teenage striker Garang Kuol from Australian A-League side Central Coast Mariners in January, the Premier League club announced on Friday.
Kuol, 18, made his international debut for Australia against New Zealand last week, becoming the youngest Socceroo since Harry Kewell in 1996.
Born in Egypt, Kuol moved to Australia with his family as a refugee and joined the Mariners’ youth system in January 2021.
He only made his A-League debut for the Mariners in April but made an immediate impression, scoring four goals in his first seven appearances as a substitute.
Kuol told Newcastle’s official website: “It’s unreal. As a young boy in Australia, the Premier League is the main thing that everyone watches but nobody actually thinks they’ll reach those heights.
“To be one of those people, to be in the position I am, it’s amazing.
“Now that I’ve signed for Newcastle, I want to train hard, play hard, hopefully go to the World Cup and come back here.”
Newcastle United sporting director Dan Ashworth said: “Garang is a very promising young talent and we are excited that he’ll be continuing his development as a Newcastle United player.
“Our philosophy is to invest in our academy and in exciting young players for the future, as well as in players required to make an immediate impact in the first team.”


Yazeed Al-Rajhi eyes glory at Rallye du Maroc

Yazeed Al-Rajhi eyes glory at Rallye du Maroc
Updated 30 September 2022

Yazeed Al-Rajhi eyes glory at Rallye du Maroc

Yazeed Al-Rajhi eyes glory at Rallye du Maroc
  • Saudi driver will be joined by German navigator Dirk von Zitzewitz in third round of World Rally Raid Championship

AGADIR: Saudi world champion Yazeed Al-Rajhi has completed last-minute preparations ahead of the 22nd edition of the Rallye du Maroc, the third round of the World Rally Raid Championship.

Al-Rajhi, will be accompanied by German navigator Dirk von Zitzewitz, the replacement for Michael Orr, who was injured in an accident at Baja Poland three weeks ago.

Crossing the desert from Agadir, in the southwest of Morocco, to Tan Tan and Al-Ayoun on the Atlantic coast will represent a new challenge for Al-Rajhi.

Day one of the rally will be a qualifying stage, while the race will last six days in five stages from Oct. 1-6. Competitors will cover a total of 2,319 km, including 1,583 km of special stages on the sand, gravel tracks and golden dunes.

The Yazeed Racing team faces a busy period until the end of the year, with Al-Rajhi  competing in three championships, including the Saudi Toyota Desert Rally Championship.

The international events are the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Baja and the FIA World Rally-Raid Championship, in which Al-Rajhi currently ranked third.

Al-Rajhi and von Zitzewitz tested the new Toyota Hilux over two days around the Moroccan city of Erfoud, which is known for its high sand dunes and varying terrain.

The Belgian team Overdrive prepared a new car similar to the vehicle that crashed in Baja Poland. The car is equipped with a V6 engine and twin turbocharger, unlike the one used in Aseer Rally few days ago.

“I’m looking forward to the Morocco rally a lot,” Al-Rajhi said.

“I thank my team for doing an amazing job as usual. We are looking forward to winning this rally and there is nothing stopping us from doing so. We need to focus and develop appropriate strategies to advance and collect points.

“Our challenge in the Morocco rally requires endurance and effort from man and machine. We have a long race ahead of us in the Moroccan deserts, and we hope that God will guide us on our way.”

Von Zitzewitz is looking forward to the challenge.

“Yazeed and I, along with the Overdrive team, believe we have what it takes to win the rally,” he said. “We have all the factors to win, and I pray that God will be on our side. The world of motorsport is unpredictable.”


Coca-Cola giving football fans in Saudi Arabia chance to win 2022 World Cup tickets

Coca-Cola giving football fans in Saudi Arabia chance to win 2022 World Cup tickets
Updated 30 September 2022

Coca-Cola giving football fans in Saudi Arabia chance to win 2022 World Cup tickets

Coca-Cola giving football fans in Saudi Arabia chance to win 2022 World Cup tickets
  • The giveaway will take place on the official FIFA partner’s Twitter account

RIYADH: Coca-Cola is giving fans in Saudi Arabia a chance to see their favorite teams on football’s biggest stage with the opportunity to win thousands of 2022 FIFA World Cup match tickets.

With Saudi Arabia’s participation at Qatar 2022 less than two months away, Coca-Cola, an official sponsor of the tournament since 1978, will provide the opportunity to claim the tickets on its official Twitter account in the coming weeks.

In addition, Coca-Cola will bring the original FIFA World Cup trophy to the Kingdom in November where thousands of fans will have the opportunity to see football’s most prized possession.

The FIFA sponsors also revealed they have plans to invest in development programs for local Saudi talent and will soon be making an announcement on this.


New chapter for women’s football in Saudi Arabia as national team conclude first ever matches at home

New chapter for women’s football in Saudi Arabia as national team conclude first ever matches at home
Updated 30 September 2022

New chapter for women’s football in Saudi Arabia as national team conclude first ever matches at home

New chapter for women’s football in Saudi Arabia as national team conclude first ever matches at home
  • Two fixtures against Bhutan saw a total of 12 goals and showcased the hosts development in only their third and fourth international matches
  • Players to return to clubs ahead of Premier League kick-off next month, as 50,000 girls register for inaugural nation-wide schools league

RIYADH: Following their launch last year, Saudi Arabia’s Women’s National Team has completed a historic week after taking on Asian counterparts Bhutan in their debut matches on home soil.

Taking place across four days at the Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz Stadium in Abha, both friendly fixtures witnessed six-goal thrillers.

The first match on Saturday saw the hosts bounce back from a 3-1 deficit at half-time to claim an 3-3 draw thanks to Al-Bandari Mubarak and Nora Ibrahim’s strikes in the closing 15 minutes. Both teams met again on Wednesday night with the visitors claiming an action-packed 4-2 victory.

Reflecting on the past week, SAFF Women’s Football Department Supervisor and board member, Lamia Bahaian, said: “We have been working very hard toward the moment we finally see our women’s national team compete at home.”

“We are extremely proud of how they’ve already inspired a nation and are helping pave the way for a career in the sport with over 50,000 young girls signing up for the first-ever schools league,” she said. “Since the launch of the team just last year, we’ve been grateful for the unconditional support shown to us by the Kingdom’s leadership. The players will now continue their development and progress in the Premier League’s inaugural season, in what is a hugely exciting moment in their careers.”

The matches represented the latest chapter in women’s football rapid journey in Saudi Arabia over the past few years. Since the establishment of a dedicated women’s football department at the Saudi Arabian Football Federation in 2019, it currently hosts 450 registered players, 49 qualified referees and more than 900 D, C and B licensed coaches.

The national team’s German head coach Monika Staab. (SAFF)

This progress is a result of a long-term strategy launched last year by the federation to grow interest and participation at all levels of the women’s game, with unprecedented investments in areas such as grassroots, player development, coaching, facilities, competitions and governance.

The national team’s players’ attention now turns toward their respective clubs ahead of the launch of the SAFF Women’s Premier League and return of the First Division League. Featuring eight clubs from across Saudi Arabia, most notably Saudi Pro League sides Al-Nassr, Al-Hilal and Al-Ittihad for the first time, the newly formed Premier League takes place on a home-and-away basis with a total of 56 matches.

The First Division League, formerly known as the SAFF Regional Football League, will see a further 17 teams compete across three cities.

The national team’s German head coach, Monika Staab, said that she could not be prouder of the team’s performances and progress over the 180 minutes, in what were only the national team’s third and fourth matches following the encounters against the Seychelles and Maldives in February.

She believes playing the first meetings at home marks another historic milestone in the national team’s journey and the women’s game as a whole.

“This week will undoubtedly go down in the history of Saudi Arabian football. Playing our first matches at home was a massive source of pride for everyone involved in the women’s game across the country,” she said.

“I am extremely pleased with the experience gained by our girls and their performances against a tough opponent. They showcased their true fighting spirit and strong willingness to fight till the final whistle. We look forward to getting more international minutes under our belt, both at home and away, as we continue toward journey to achieve the ambitious goals set for women’s football.”