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

How Saudi Arabia is fostering a field hockey culture among its youth
1 / 5
How Saudi Arabia is fostering a field hockey culture among its youth
2 / 5
How Saudi Arabia is fostering a field hockey culture among its youth
3 / 5
How Saudi Arabia is fostering a field hockey culture among its youth
4 / 5
How Saudi Arabia is fostering a field hockey culture among its youth
5 / 5
Short Url
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.”


Ronaldo, Portugal look to end Morocco’s World Cup run

Ronaldo, Portugal look to end Morocco’s World Cup run
Updated 09 December 2022

Ronaldo, Portugal look to end Morocco’s World Cup run

Ronaldo, Portugal look to end Morocco’s World Cup run
  • Ronaldo has again managed to steal the spotlight in his inimitable way
  • Will he start, or won’t he? That’s the big question being asked about Ronaldo

DOHA: These really are pinch-yourself times for Morocco: A first-ever spot in the quarterfinals of a World Cup — the first to take place in the Arab world, no less — and now a meeting with Portugal and their superstar striker, Cristiano Ronaldo.
Well, maybe.
Because Ronaldo has again managed to steal the spotlight in his inimitable way, even bumping Morocco’s historic run to the last eight off the top of the agenda before Saturday’s narrative-laden match.
Will he start, or won’t he? That’s the big question being asked about Ronaldo after he was dropped by Portugal coach Fernando Santos for the 6-1 win over Switzerland in the round of 16 on Tuesday.
Not only was the five-time world player of the year relegated to the bench, his replacement — 21-year-old Gonçalo Ramos — scored a hat trick to leave Santos with quite the selection dilemma against Morocco.
“I hope he won’t (play),” Morocco coach Walid Regragui said Friday of Ronaldo. “As a coach I know he’s one of the best players in history and so I’d be delighted if he didn’t play.”
The announcement of Portugal’s team about 90 minutes before the game at Al Thumama Stadium is keenly awaited as Ronaldo prepares to play in the quarterfinals of the World Cup for just the second time in his glittering career.
Santos declined to share selection thoughts Friday for what he said would be a different kind of game to the one against Switzerland, while noting that “90 percent of the questions” are about Ronaldo at Portugal’s pregame news conferences.
One inevitable question Santos faced was about reports in national media that Ronaldo threatened to leave the World Cup after being told he was benched. Not true, the coach said.
“He has never told me that he wanted to leave the national team,” Santos said through an interpreter. “Cristiano obviously wasn’t very happy about it. He told me ‘Do you really think it’s a good idea?’”
Portugal are at this stage for only the third time after 1966 and 2006, perhaps surprising given the talent to have come from the country down the years.
Four years ago, Portugal lost in the round of 16 to Uruguay, though a group-stage game against Morocco was “possibly the most difficult match” the team faced, Santos said Friday.
“We won 1-0 but we had to suffer a lot to win that match,” he said. “My players know that.”
As for Morocco, the nation is in uncharted territory after becoming only the fourth African country to reach the quarterfinals at soccer’s biggest tournament, after Cameroon (1990), Senegal (2002) and Ghana (2010). None of them reached the semifinals.
Morocco are also the only team from outside Europe or South America to make it to the last eight in Qatar.
The team’s penalty-shootout victory over Spain in the last 16 sparked wild celebrations not just among its many fans in Qatar and at home.
The excitement extended to the Moroccan diaspora of around 5 million people spread mostly around Europe, which has united behind the World Cup run of the team nicknamed the “Atlas Lions.”
Morocco fans poured into the streets of European cities to celebrate the team’s passage to the quarterfinals, which came after Morocco advanced from a group containing second-ranked Belgium and 2018 runner-up Croatia.
“We haven’t got carried away by the euphoria,” Regragui said. “We’ve just surprised a few people and surprised a few algorithms who expected Belgium to get through ... and expected Spain to get through. We are not satisfied with where we have come so far.”
Regragui, who was born in France, and 14 of the 26 players in the squad were born abroad — the highest proportion for any team at a World Cup being held in the Middle East for the first time in the tournament’s 92-year history.
The Arab world’s standard bearer, Morocco are in the quarterfinals on merit, too. The team have only conceded one goal — and that was an own-goal against Canada — and are proving so well-organized, with a sturdy back four headlined by Achraf Hakimi, a dedicated midfield anchored by Sofyan Amrabat, two mercurial wingers in Hakim Ziyech and Sofiane Boufal, and a striker in Youssef En-Nesyri, who occupies defenses with his relentless work rate.
Three key players might be struggling to be healthy enough to play against Portugal, though. Amrabat said he played with a back injury requiring painkilling injections in the match against Spain, during which captain Romain Saiss finished the game with his leg bandaged up after treatment, and fellow center back Nayef Aguerd hobbled off in tears with an apparent thigh injury.
“Yes, they are tired, yes, we have injuries. We are not going to hide it and we are not going to complain,” Regragui said. “We are here on a mission.”
Portugal doesn’t appear to have such problems, with Santos’ squad depth so impressive that he could afford to leave players like Ronaldo, João Cancelo and Rúben Neves on the bench against Switzerland after they started every group game.
Even if he is among the substitutes again, Ronaldo — playing in what is likely his last World Cup — is expected to see some time on the field. Given the drama constantly surrounding him, he’s sure to be a talking point whatever happens.

England out to stop World Cup’s ‘irresistible force’ Mbappé

England out to stop World Cup’s ‘irresistible force’ Mbappé
Updated 09 December 2022

England out to stop World Cup’s ‘irresistible force’ Mbappé

England out to stop World Cup’s ‘irresistible force’ Mbappé
  • Mbappé is the tournament’s leading scorer with five goals
  • He is widely considered the man to succeed Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as soccer’s biggest star

DOHA: England’s players have been asked one question on repeat as they prepare to face France in the World Cup quarterfinals on Saturday. How do you stop Kylian Mbappé?
Hardly surprising, given Mbappé is the tournament’s leading scorer with five goals and is widely considered the man to succeed Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as soccer’s biggest star.
“I’m sure England will have prepared to face Kylian,” France coach Didier Deschamps said at a news conference Friday. “But Kylian is in the position to make a difference.
“Kylian is Kylian and he always will be.”
There is no sense of France trying manage expectations of their star player, even as the hype surrounding him grows with each stellar performance in Qatar.
He has already scored one more goal than the four he managed as his country won the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
In the round of 16, he struck twice as the defending champions beat Poland 3-1, with two thunderous shots past goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny.
“He cannot be compared to other players,” said teammate Dayot Upamecano.
“We all believe in Kylian,” added Youssouf Fofana.
Mbappé is being depicted as an unstoppable force in Qatar — something England defender Kyle Walker pushed back against this week.
“I don’t know how to say it even more: I feel he is a top player. I’m not underestimating that one bit, but we are not playing tennis, it’s not a solo sport,” he said after being faced with a series of questions about the Paris Saint-Germain striker.
But France’s players seem happy to feed the narrative that Mbappé is simply unstoppable.
“If he (Walker) can stop Kylian Mbappé, good for him,” added Fofana. “But 19 other teams in Ligue 1 have been waiting for the solution. The truth will come from the pitch.”
Walker will have the job of trying to limit the damage Mbappé can inflict on England’s defense at Al Bayt Stadium. But rather than merely trying to contain France’s biggest threat, discussion this week has been about how bold Three Lions coach Gareth Southgate is prepared to be in response.
England reached the semifinals in 2018 and the final of last year’s European Championships.
On both occasions Southgate was criticized for a cautious approach, even though England only lost on a penalty shootout to Italy at the Euros.
“I very much like Gareth. If I understand correctly, not everyone appreciates him so much in his own country,” noted Deschamps.
England lost 2-1 to Croatia four years ago and the shootout loss to Italy came after a 1-1 draw at Wembley.
England had taken the lead in both matches, and Southgate was accused of adopting defensive tactics to try to protect the lead.
His team has played with more freedom at this World Cup, with a more attacking style leading to 12 goals in four games to tie Portugal as leading scorers.
Southgate has opted to play with a back four in the tournament so far, but could switch to a five-man defense to try to cope with Mbappé.
“Nobody was complaining about us playing a five before we reached the Euros final,” said Walker. “I think it’s a bit harsh to judge him on what we’ve done previously. I think at this tournament we have been playing good attacking football and scoring a lot of goals.”
After coming close in their last two major tournaments, Walker believes England are ready to win this time around. Beating France, he says, would be evidence of that.
“It’s a great opportunity to put a stamp down and to say that we are a good team and we can achieve great things, and give us the belief that we can win this,” he said. “I’m not saying we don’t believe, but to beat a big team like that in a quarter-final, they’re the reigning world champions, that will give us great confidence — not arrogance but confidence.”

Newcastle boss happy to keep Loris Karius after Riyadh clean sheet

Newcastle boss happy to keep Loris Karius after Riyadh clean sheet
Updated 09 December 2022

Newcastle boss happy to keep Loris Karius after Riyadh clean sheet

Newcastle boss happy to keep Loris Karius after Riyadh clean sheet
  • Former Liverpool goalkeeper made his debut for Eddie Howe’s team in 5-0 friendly win over Al-Hilal on Thursday

RIYADH: Eddie Howe is determined to keep former Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius at Newcastle United.

The former Reds No. 1 only signed for the Magpies in September and made his debut for the Magpies in the 5-0 win over Al-Hilal at the Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium.

In an impressive 45 minutes — he was replaced by Mark Gillespie at the break — Karius made a string of goal-saving stops to keep a clean sheet.

Head coach Howe admits he was impressed by the impact of the former Champions League keeper, and he wants to secure the player on a longer term deal, with his current contract set to run out in January.

Howe said: “I think he did really well. We came under pressure in the first half and I thought he made some good saves.

“Since he’s been with us, he’s steadily improved. His distribution was very good, so a good night for him.

“I’d like him to stay but obviously the two parties have got to agree, so fingers crossed.

“I think he’s been a very calming influence. He’s a goalkeeper with a lot of experience.

“He’s trained well and is a very good character and very popular in the changing room: the lads have really taken to him.

“He’s a positive influence and that’s why I’d like him to stay.

“I think that’s down to how he’s trained because he hadn’t trained a lot when he entered the club.

“We were in a difficult situation after the injury to Karl (Darlow) and, as I say, he was a calming influence. He brought stability behind the scenes.

“Steadily, with the amount of goalkeeping he’s done now, he’s improving all the time.”

Speaking after the game, Karius revealed he is set for discussions about his future.

He said: “We’re going to have some talks and see what we’re going to do, but of course I can see myself here for longer and hopefully get some more appearances in the future, also competitive.

“That’s my aim, that’s what I’m working for every day and, at the same time, I’m supporting all the other guys.

“I think there’s a good chance I can stay here longer, but we’ll have to have that discussion over the next few weeks.”

Howe has been speaking with Newcastle’s owners over the policy the club will adopt in the January transfer window.

When asked how those talks have progressed, he said: “Very well. It’s just conversations at this stage. The big thing is a lot can change between now and January.

“We’ve talked and had discussions over what it may look like but there is such a long time before that window opens and we’re still very flexible over what we’re going to do.”

While co-owners Mehrdad Ghodoussi and Amanda Staveley jetted off to Qatar to witness England’s World Cup quarter-final against France on Saturday evening, the rest of the United group remained at their Olaya base in the commercial heart of Riyadh.

Howe took his players for a recovery session at Optimo leisure complex in the city on Friday.

Much of the club’s staffing operations have switched from the Four Seasons to the Novotel Al-Anoud, a short walk away, due to the arrival of the Chinese entourage of President Xi Jinping in the Kingdom’s capital.

Iconic father-son racing duo, Jan and Kevin Magnussen, take to Yas Marina Circuit track for this weekend’s Gulf 12 Hours

Iconic father-son racing duo, Jan and Kevin Magnussen, take to Yas Marina Circuit track for this weekend’s Gulf 12 Hours
Updated 09 December 2022

Iconic father-son racing duo, Jan and Kevin Magnussen, take to Yas Marina Circuit track for this weekend’s Gulf 12 Hours

Iconic father-son racing duo, Jan and Kevin Magnussen, take to Yas Marina Circuit track for this weekend’s Gulf 12 Hours
  • Danish motorsport powerhouses will unite on the grid for the region’s biggest weekend of GT3 endurance racing

ABU DHABI: Jan Magnussen, four-time Le Mans winner, and son Kevin Magnussen, Haas Formula One Team driver, are joining forces for the 11th edition of the Gulf 12 Hours to take place on Yas Island, from Dec. 9 to 11.

The Danish father-son duo will unite on the grid alongside American driver Mark Kvamme at Yas Marina Circuit to compete in the annual endurance event, combining day and night racing, that will see the biggest-ever line-up of GT cars in the race’s history.

Having started his career with the McLaren F1 Team’s Young Driver Programme, Kevin rose through the junior ranks to represent the British motor racing team in the 2014 F1 Championship and 2014 Australian Grand Prix, where he became the first Dane to claim a podium in F1.  

After a short stint with Renault in 2016, he got behind the wheel for the Haas F1 team, most recently securing their first-ever pole position at the 2022 Brazilian Grand Prix. But with a successful career of his own — and a notably busy schedule — the Roskilde racer has not had many opportunities to drive with his father.

“We’ve both done this our whole life, and you know, done it separately,” he said. “Getting to do this with my dad, it’s very special. It’s a big privilege; I’m grateful to MDK Motorsports and our friend Mark for giving us this opportunity.”

Jan, a former F1 driver himself, shares Kevin’s sentiment and laughs when asked whether his son’s speed on the track is a result of his coaching.

“Unfortunately, I think I taught him too much,” he said. “It’s fantastic to get to compare myself to Kevin. Not just his brilliant lap times, but also to see the data and videos of how we operate the car.”

Magnussen senior boasts an impressive racing history and has competed in a range of prestigious competitions and series, including F1, IndyCar, NASCAR, American Le Mans Series, WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, 24 Hours of Le Mans and FIA World Endurance Championship.

Now, the two Danes are bringing their wealth of driving experience and bold race moves to Abu Dhabi. While the track will be a first-time experience for Jan, Kevin recalls racing at Yas Marina Circuit in the 2020 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix — and again in the 2022 edition.

“I think the changes made to the track over the last two years are good for some things,” he said. “I think before, it was a little more technical, so maybe a bit more difficult. Now, the track has become faster and more enjoyable to drive.”

Despite having raced the circuit before, the second-generation F1 driver is in for an entirely new experience as he steps out of his comfort zone and into an unfamiliar GT car.

“I did it in an F1 car, and GT is going to be completely different. It feels like a new track for me,” he said. “It’s fun to be challenged in different ways as a racing driver. That’s what I’m looking forward to.”

With scheduling conflicts and international travel keeping them occupied, the Magnussens are uncertain when they will drive together next. This weekend’s Gulf 12 Hours will be a unique opportunity for the duo to share in their passion for the sport — with the hopes of winning the race.

“We know each other. When we get into this stuff, it just gets competitive, and we want to do as well as possible,” Kevin said. “That’s the most fun, so that’s really what we’re focusing on – me and my dad.”

Allan Saint-Maximin not interested in leaving ‘home’ of Newcastle United

Allan Saint-Maximin not interested in leaving ‘home’ of Newcastle United
Updated 09 December 2022

Allan Saint-Maximin not interested in leaving ‘home’ of Newcastle United

Allan Saint-Maximin not interested in leaving ‘home’ of Newcastle United
  • Frenchman has been a target for Premier League rivals Tottenham but wants to stay at St. James’ Park

RIYADH: Newcastle United star Allan Saint-Maximin is ready to rebuff the increasing advances of Champions League rivals Tottenham Hotspur because he has finally found a club that really feels like home.

The Frenchman was one of Antonio Conte’s primary targets in the summer transfer window, and despite an up-and-down campaign so far, which has contained just four Premier League starts, the player admits he could not be happier at St. James’ Park.

Saint-Maximin had only ever shown flashes of brilliance in his early career prior to his near $20 million move back in 2019.

Spells at the likes of Nice, Bastia and Monaco brought little love for Saint-Maximin, who is undoubtedly adored by the Geordie public, especially for his ability to get fans off their feet.

But now, finally, he knows home is where the heart is.

“It’s very nice. It’s like finding your first house,” he said of being at Newcastle United.

“It’s like when you have found a very nice house and you know what you are going to build. You start to see the potential there and you are like, ‘Wow, this is huge.’ That is a great example because I really feel at home here.”

Comparing the ownership of the Public Investment Fund to former custodian Mike Ashley, of the Sports Direct clothing empire, the 25-year-old said: “This is a different place now. There are a lot of beautiful houses in the world now but there are some houses where you put your feet and think ‘Here is my home.’

“It’s the feeling I have in Newcastle. I am very proud because...when you work very hard, you start to see everything change.

“Especially when you have the choice to go to another club. You just say, ‘No, I will believe until the end at this club.’

“I want to give back the love they give me…I will always be a Newcastle fan, I love the club so much.”

Saint-Maximin follows in a long line of enigmatic, crowd-pleasing Gallic talents to grace the fields of Tyneside, with the likes of Laurent Robert, Hatem Ben Arfa and David Ginola remembered with fondness by those who witnessed their swagger in black and white.

It is a line of succession, and Saint-Maximin is in no mood to give up any time soon. 

“I will try to do my best,” he said of emulating those who have gone before him.

“There are many legends. You talk about French players (Robert and Ginola). There are English players as well like Alan Shearer.

“Everywhere I go, I want to be the best. I try to change things in my life and with my mentality. I work even harder than before. I am sure if I keep thinking like that and try to fight for my teammates, many good things can happen.”

One player who has arguably restricted Saint-Maximin’s game time this campaign has been Miguel Almiron. The Paraguayan has netted eight goals in the Premier League and has been Newcastle’s surprise package of the campaign so far.

And while many a player may well begrudge the success of a forward rival, Saint-Maximin has shared his absolute delight at the player’s unexpected success— although there is nothing unexpected about it in his eyes.

Saint-Maximin said: “Miggy has always been a great player. He is an incredible guy but a great player.

“When you play and touch the ball less and the team doesn’t play well, it’s much more difficult to shine. It is more difficult to show your quality.

“You see people saying Miggy is a new player. He’s not a new player. He has always been a great player.

“I want to be on the pitch with him, to help him, make assists and have the best season possible for him.

“He deserves that. It’s the type of mentality every player should have. I am sure every player will help us to be where we need to be.”

On Thursday evening, Newcastle United lifted the Diriyah Season Cup with a 5-0 win over Saudi Pro League champions Al-Hilal.

Almiron netted twice along with Joelinton while Dylan Stephenson netted the Magpies’ fifth at the Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium.

Newcastle are next in action on Saturday, Dec. 17, when they take on Rayo Valladolid at St. James’ Park prior to the return to domestic football against Bournemouth in the Carabao Cup on Dec. 23.