Inaugural AlUla Camel Cup brings to light Saudi Arabia’s desert heritage

Inaugural AlUla Camel Cup brings to light Saudi Arabia’s desert heritage
The ancient sport of camel racing has flourished in Saudi Arabia across the centuries (Supplied)
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Updated 07 March 2023
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Inaugural AlUla Camel Cup brings to light Saudi Arabia’s desert heritage

Inaugural AlUla Camel Cup brings to light Saudi Arabia’s desert heritage
  • Chief tourism officer of Royal Commission for AlUla writes exclusively for Arab News about the historical significance of this event ahead of competition taking place on March 14-17

As the sun rose above the desert dunes, the seventh century men, women, and children of the early Islamic period would come together on special occasions for social gatherings and festivals. Among the festivities in the land that would become the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, camels competed against each other, thundering over the sand to the raucous cheers of their owners and supporters in the crowds.

And so the cherished homegrown sport of camel racing was born, a traditional pursuit from the most ancient of times that has been preserved and flourishes in modern Saudi Arabia.

The inaugural AlUla Camel Cup, organized by the Royal Commission for AlUla as part of the AlUla Moments calendar, in collaboration with the Saudi Camel Racing Federation, is the pinnacle of this year’s camel racing season. It is the next step in evolving a sport that has thrived from humble origins.

To be held from March 14-17, complete with a grand prize pool of $21 million — the highest prize pot in the world per round of camel racing — the AlUla Camel Cup honors the Kingdom’s revered sport in the most apt setting.

Against the stunning backdrop of AlUla, a place of extraordinary human and natural heritage, a “Champion of Champions” will be crowned on ground which was one of the main stops along the ancient Incense Road and pilgrimage routes. You only need a glimpse of AlUla to see the significance of the camel’s contribution and legacy. Be it rock art or figurines, depictions of camels dot the landscape of this breathtaking oasis, illustrating the unique human-animal relationship that continues to be so important to the region’s people nowadays.

AlUla, the living museum, holds some 200,000 years of largely unexplored human history. But AlUla as a modern tourist destination is relatively new, and there is much that we can all learn from the beloved camel on how to evolve over time. 

Think of the camel’s numerous adaptations that have helped it thrive in a desert environment — the long, shaggy fur that keeps them warm but which they can shed during hot months, the wide hooves that are perfect for running on sand, and the energy-rich fat stored in their humps that enables them to survive long periods without food.

This is why the AlUla Camel Cup has been adapted to go beyond the incredible capabilities of animals known as the “ships of the desert.” A gala dinner, live auction, cultural market, and an arts-filled evening featuring local and global stars performing across music and other arts bolster an itinerary befitting the grandeur of such a special and momentous occasion in the Kingdom’s sports calendar. Embracing glamour and style, the four-day AlUla Camel Cup will also showcase the most refined and chic of fashion events.

The AlUla Camel Cup is an ode to the rich cultural inheritance of an ancient sport, and a tribute to the pivotal role of camels in AlUla’s rise, bringing camel racing to new horizons in the 21st century while providing just as much passion and excitement to attendees as to those who watched on in the seventh century, who propelled this glorious and noble sport into exhilarating motion.


Saudi Hockey Federation president welcomes international federation chief

Saudi Hockey Federation president welcomes international federation chief
Updated 21 February 2024
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Saudi Hockey Federation president welcomes international federation chief

Saudi Hockey Federation president welcomes international federation chief
  • Mohammed Al-Mandil, Saudi Hockey Federation president, and Tayyab Ikram, International Hockey Federation president, discussed ways to develop the game

RIYADH: Ways to enhance, promote and develop hockey in the Kingdom were discussed by Saudi Hockey Federation President Mohammed Al-Mandil and International Hockey Federation President Tayyab Ikram on Wednesday.
Al-Mandil welcomed Ikram at the SHF’s headquarters in Riyadh during a meeting that was also attended by Abdulellah Almymoon, SHF’s executive director.
The president of the Saudi Hockey Federation presented a token of appreciation to the IHF’s chief and thanked him for his efforts in the growth and support of field hockey internationally, and in appreciation of his visit to Saudi Arabia.
Al-Mandil also confirmed the federation’s commitment to developing this Olympic sport at the local level through its sports activities, and through cooperative agreements with schools and universities to create a generation passionate about the sport.
He said that SHF’s strategy was to include hockey as a sport in collaboration with Saudi sports clubs to enhance competition and integration within society.


Frankly Speaking: Is tennis the next ‘Grand Slam’ for Saudi sports?

Frankly Speaking: Is tennis the next ‘Grand Slam’ for Saudi sports?
Updated 18 February 2024
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Frankly Speaking: Is tennis the next ‘Grand Slam’ for Saudi sports?

Frankly Speaking: Is tennis the next ‘Grand Slam’ for Saudi sports?
  • Hundreds of thousands of women and girls are now taking part in sports, says Saudi Tennis Federation president
  • Arij Mutabagani invites critics to visit the Kingdom now in ‘a phase of change’ and see the progress for themselves

DUBAI: Tennis is fast becoming a popular sport in Saudi Arabia with thousands of young people, including women and girls, signing up to clubs and taking part in tournaments across the Kingdom, Arij Mutabagani, president of the Saudi Tennis Federation, has said.

Appearing on Arab News’ current affairs show “Frankly Speaking,” Mutabagani said one only had to look at the numbers to see the sport’s huge potential, raising the possibility of the Kingdom taking part in — or even hosting — major tournaments.

“Saudi Arabia has gone through a great transformation, especially when it comes to the world of sports and female participation,” said Mutabagani.

“The numbers speak for themselves. We have increased female participation in sports. Now, we have 330,000 females registered in sports and around 14,000 female participants in tennis.”

Much of this success is down to government initiatives introduced under the Vision 2030 reform agenda, which has made investment in sport and the promotion of public health and well-being top priorities.

“We have a huge program with the Ministry of Education in partnership with the Sports For All Federation, where we would like to introduce tennis as a new sport to children,” said Mutabagani.

“We started in 2023 with 30 schools across Saudi Arabia. We’ve increased it to 90 schools, later in 2023 and 2024. We are expanding to 400 schools.” The initiative is gender neutral and split between boys’ and girls’ schools, she said.

“Back in 2019, we had no female participation in clubs. Now, we have seven clubs that have female participation,” she added, noting that the newly created women’s national team has already played in 20 events.

“We’ve had an increase in participation. We had 90 females playing in 2019. Now, we have 700 females registered playing tennis.”

The Saudi Sports for All Federation is responsible for the development of community sports and the promotion of a healthy lifestyle across the Kingdom, in line with the country’s long-term development plan for social and economic progress, Vision 2030.

“We’ve seen tennis introduced in clubs,” Mutabagani told Katie Jensen, the host of “Frankly Speaking.” “In 2019, we had zero clubs participating in tournaments. Now, we have seven clubs that have female participants. We have increased the number of tennis tournaments for females. We had three. Now, we have 20. You can see there is big progress.”

Saudi youngsters such as Yara Alhogbani are leading the way in building a thriving tennis community in the Kingdom. (Supplied)

Despite these successes, tennis legends Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova recently said a lack of gender equality in Saudi Arabia ought to prohibit the Kingdom from hosting big events like the Women’s Tennis Association Finals.

In a statement, Princess Reema bint Bandar Al-Saud, the Saudi ambassador to the US, rejected Evert and Navratilova’s “beyond disappointing” arguments.

“Like many women around the world, we looked to the legends of tennis as trailblazers and role models… glimmers of hope that women truly could achieve it all,” she said.

“But these champions have turned their back on the very same women they have inspired and it is beyond disappointing.”

Undeterred by Evert and Navratilova’s comments, Mutabagani invited the tennis stars to visit the Kingdom to witness firsthand the transformation in Saudi sports and the huge strides in women’s participation.

“Be part of this journey in changing and transforming tennis and especially female participation. We will learn a lot from them, and they’d just have to come and see for themselves,” she said.

“They’ve done so much for tennis and for female participation, and gender equality and getting equal prize money. I respect that everyone is free to say and comment.

“But I would really like to invite them to come to Saudi Arabia and really see the progress. We are in a phase of change. We are trying to change.”

Mutabagani hopes the Kingdom will soon host a tennis major event or Grand Slam, as it will further encourage Saudis to take up the sport.

“Everything and anything is possible,” she said. “Bringing this kind of international event to the country will only shed more light on the sport of tennis. It will make it more popular.

“The players will have role models to look up to. It will inspire a new generation to really work harder and train harder to become champions in the future, and be able to compete in these tournaments in their country.”

Appearing on “Frankly Speaking,” Arij Mutabagan told host Katie Jensen one only had to look at the numbers to see the sport’s huge potential in Saudi Arabia, raising the possibility of the Kingdom taking part in, or even hosting, major tournaments. (AN Photo)

She added: “We’re working hard on it. We’re working closely with the WTA and the ATP to try to make this possible and happen, hopefully in the near future.”

While nothing is set in stone, Mutabagani is hopeful that the WTA or ATP will choose the Kingdom to host a Grand Slam.

“We are trying to have and build a long-lasting relationship with the official governing bodies of tennis, whether it’s ATP, WTA or ITF,” she said.

“We successfully delivered the Next Gen finals last year in Jeddah, so we started this relationship with the ATP. Now, we’re also trying to build up the relationship with the WTA.”

Grand Slam championships, the most prestigious tournaments in professional tennis, are organized by the WTA and ATP, and overseen by the International Tennis Federation.

Mutabagani predicts these pro events will help to increase participation in amateur sports across Saudi Arabia, particularly among the youth.

“We’re still in discussions,” she said. “But our goal is to build all of these relationships for the long term that will help develop tennis in Saudi Arabia, whether it is big events or lower events, from challenges to futures, because that will improve the level of our local tennis players.”

Saudi Arabia has sought to increase its sporting presence by establishing the LIV Golf series, signing top soccer players like Christiano Ronaldo and hosting the 2023 Next Generation ATP Finals.

“Tennis has taken a very important part in the transformation of sports in Saudi Arabia,” said Mutabagani. “We have seen that by the increased number of events specifically in tennis. In 2022, we started hosting the first international junior tournament that took place in Riyadh.”

The Kingdom hosted its first professional tournament in 2019 with the Diriyah Tennis Cup. It parlayed its success from 2019 to 2022 into the Next Gen ATP Finals, which are being hosted in Riyadh from 2023 to 2027.

The Six Kings Slam men’s tennis exhibition will feature international tennis stars Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic plus three other Grand Slam winners in October.

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Princess Reema bint Bandar, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US, rejected calls by tennis legends Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova for a ban on holding the Women’s Tennis Association Finals in Saudi Arabia. Click here to read more.

Given the sport’s relative novelty in Saudi Arabia, there were some initial doubts about how popular tennis events would be. However, Mutabagani says the players have been thrilled by the number of spectators turning out to matches.

“They have been extremely happy with the audiences,” she said. “We had the full stadium for the exhibition match in Riyadh. Tickets were sold out and the audience was really, really engaged.

“We’ve noticed that the audience understood the game of tennis, which is very important.”

Top international players typically begin playing in sports academies or clubs as young children. The Kingdom will need experienced coaches, trainers and specialized facilities to retain its own top talent.

“Our main aim is to start with the grassroots and introduce tennis to all the population, and then grow it from there and concentrate on the high performance,” said Mutabagani.

One young Saudi tennis star to emerge is 19-year-old Yara Al-Hogbani.

“She is a great ambassador for the sport, and inspiring the new generation of little kids, whether boys or girls,” said Mutabagani.

Al-Hogbani played in the Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open this year with top international players like Ons Jabeur, a Tunisian who is WTA number six, and Naomi Osaka from Japan — the first Asian player ranked number one in the world.

“(Al-Hogbani) worked very hard from a very young age,” said Mutabagani. “She has two other siblings who are also national players.”

She played with her oldest brother, Ammar, at the Asian Games in Hangzhou in 2023, making history as the Kingdom’s first professional mixed doubles team. Their middle brother, Saud, plays at Wake Forest University in the US.

Al-Hogbani also met tennis legends like Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, the newly minted ambassador for the Saudi Tennis Federation, during the Next Gen ATP Finals in Jeddah in December. Nadal has committed to helping Saudi Arabia develop its young talent.

“It has given her the chance to feel what it is to be at those high levels and it has inspired her to work harder, try harder and to reach higher levels in the future,” said Mutabagani. “Having these chances can turn somebody’s future around and they can … be stars for the next generations.”

Asked what her message would be to young Saudis who are considering taking up tennis, Mutabagani, herself a lifelong tennis player, said: “I would tell them to really grab a tennis racket, try the sport, play tennis, be the Next Gen champion, be a role model on the court and off the court.

“Because tennis is a life learning experience, it teaches us to be great human beings before being sportsmen. So, be an ambassador for tennis in Saudi Arabia on and off the court.”

 

 


Saudi Sports for All Federation, ASICS Arabia sign partnership

Saudi Sports for All Federation, ASICS Arabia sign partnership
Updated 18 February 2024
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Saudi Sports for All Federation, ASICS Arabia sign partnership

Saudi Sports for All Federation, ASICS Arabia sign partnership
  • ASICS Arabia will serve as a strategic partner for two SFA events and will play a prominent role as a key sponsor of the Riyadh Marathon

LONDON: The Saudi Sports for All Federation announced on Sunday that it had signed a partnership with the Middle East arm of Japanese sportswear brand ASICS.
Saleh Al-Husseini, the SFA’s managing director, and Seiji Hori, ASICS Arabia general manager, signed the agreement at a ceremony in Riyadh.
Under the terms of the agreement, ASICS Arabia will serve as a strategic partner for two SFA events and will play a prominent role as a key sponsor of the Riyadh Marathon.
The partnership follows a visit by SFA members to Japan, where they engaged with sports organizations, met representatives of ASICS at its international headquarters, and learned about innovative technologies at the ASICS Institute of Sports Science, the federation said in a statement.
During that trip, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the two parties, laying the groundwork for future collaborations.

The Riyadh Marathon takes place annually every February, and will now include ASICS as an official sportswear brand. (Supplied/SFA)

The Riyadh Marathon takes place annually every February, and will now include ASICS as an official sportswear brand.
All participants will receive an ASICS performance running top designed with recycled materials, highlighting the brand’s ongoing sustainability drive.
Other SFA events and campaigns, at national and community levels, will be scheduled throughout the year.
“The SFA is honored to collaborate with ASICS Arabia as a strategic partner. This collaboration marks the beginning of a dynamic relationship aimed at building key events and supporting different sports initiatives,” Al-Husseini said.
“We believe this partnership will not only take our events to the next level but continue to position Saudi Arabia as a global sporting destination.”
Hori said: “ASICS Arabia is proud to collaborate with the SFA as a strategic partner. We see this as the beginning of a dynamic partnership, helping to build key events and support different sports initiatives.
“This collaboration will not only develop physical and mental well-being in the Kingdom but encourage everyone to become a Lifetime Athlete, in line with our company’s Sound Mind Sound Body philosophy.”


Saudi Arabia ‘new fight capital of world’: PFL CEO Peter Murray

Saudi Arabia ‘new fight capital of world’: PFL CEO Peter Murray
Updated 15 February 2024
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Saudi Arabia ‘new fight capital of world’: PFL CEO Peter Murray

Saudi Arabia ‘new fight capital of world’: PFL CEO Peter Murray
  • PFL Champions versus Bellator Champions takes place at Kingdom Arena on Feb. 24

Riyadh: Saudi Arabia was the “new fight capital of the world” the CEO of the world’s second-largest mixed martial arts organization said ahead of the sport’s first major event in the Kingdom.

The fight meeting in Riyadh on Feb. 24 will also make history as it will be the first to bring together stars from the Professional Fighters League and Bellator, after the former organization acquired the latter in November.

PFL Champions versus Bellator Champions will take place at Kingdom Arena in Boulevard City.

Peter Murray, CEO of the Saudi Public Investment Fund-backed PFL, said: “I’m really excited about it. When you look at the cards from top to bottom, it is star-studded and stacked, and we’ll see who will be the champion of champions.

“(Saudi Arabia is) the new fight capital of the world, and we’re proud to be part of Riyadh Season and to present the very best of MMA,” he added.

The main event will feature a bout between PFL heavyweight champion Renan Ferreira and his Bellator counterpart Ryan Bader.

Also fighting on the night will be Saudi pro fighter Abdullah Al-Qahtani, taking on India’s Edukondala Rao in the featherweight division.

In the MMA world, the PFL has recently been gaining traction in terms of viewing figures and star power.

While it is still some way off the top spot currently inhabited by the Ultimate Fighting Championship, which pioneered the sport and is home to household names such as Conor McGregor, the PFL has been making aggressive moves of its own.

Just a few years after its inaugural event in 2018, its Nielsen viewing figures and worldwide distribution put it second only to the UFC.

Then, in a huge win in May 2023, the upstart organization signed then-UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou.

Part of Ngannou’s deal with the PFL was to allow him to take on boxing matches outside of the organization, and he will be doing just that when he faces Anthony Joshua in Riyadh on March 8.

The PFL edged out the UFC to become the first international MMA organization to hold an event in the Kingdom after the latter’s inaugural Riyadh event on March 2 was cancelled due to some fighters reportedly not being ready.

On how the PFL was able to secure an event in the Kingdom before its larger competitor, Murray said: “I think it speaks volumes about the PFL’s overall capabilities, our global platform, our roster — it’s second to none — and our commitment to advance and grow the sport around the world, including building a world-class ecosystem in MMA within the Middle East and specifically within Saudi Arabia.”

The PFL’s unique league format means that there is a clear path for fighters to rise through the ranks and compete for the title.

“We’re committed to the sport and advancing and growing the sport, developing future champions and not just staging one-off events,” Murray added.

In August, officials at Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund saw the potential of the organization and bought a minority stake, reportedly worth $100 million, through PIF company SRJ Sports Investment.

Murray said: “We’re proud of our partnership and the investment by SRJ. That investment will fuel the global growth of the PFL, help launch our superfight division, as well as develop the sport throughout the Middle East and within Saudi Arabia specifically.”

On the Kingdom’s push in recent years to develop its sporting sector, he added: “It’s an exciting time in Saudi Arabia, culturally, as well as it relates to sport, and specifically within combat sports. Staging an event in Saudi Arabia just illustrates when you execute an event there, it’s just amplified on a global level.”


Jeddah ready to launch Season 4 of Extreme E

Jeddah ready to launch Season 4 of Extreme E
Updated 15 February 2024
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Jeddah ready to launch Season 4 of Extreme E

Jeddah ready to launch Season 4 of Extreme E
  • The Desert X Prix is the first of five global events and takes place Feb. 17-18

JEDDAH: Jeddah is gearing up to host the first event of Season 4 in the all-electric off-roading series Extreme E, with two rounds to be held on Feb. 17-18.

The 2024 Desert X Prix will take place in Saudi Arabia for the fourth year in a row, but this year’s event will be the first in the new location near Jeddah.

Extreme E fans will this season be treated to a five-event, 10-race global adventure featuring 16 drivers from eight teams.

The teams involved are reigning champions Rosberg X Racing, debutants Legacy Motor Club, NEOM McLaren Extreme E, JBXE, Acciona-Sainz XE Team, Andretti Al-Tawkilat Extreme E, Sun Minimeal Team and Veloce Racing.

After her recent performance in the Hail Toyota International Rally, Saudi Arabia’s Dania Akeel will make her debut in the Extreme E race after joining Jenson Button’s JBXE team.

Extreme E races aim to highlight the impact of climate change and human interventions on nature in remote locations and look to encourage the use of electric vehicles to support conservation efforts.

Prince Khalid bin Sultan bin Abdullah bin Faisal, chairman of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation and the Saudi Motorsport Co., welcomed the return of Extreme E to the Kingdom.

Prince Khalid said that starting the season in Saudi Arabia for the fourth time reflects the series’ long-term commitment to supporting conservation initiatives and the Kingdom’s goal to create a more sustainable future in line with the targets of the Saudi Vision 2030.

Meanwhile, Extreme E founder and CEO Alejandro Agag said: “We are delighted to unveil the schedule for the fourth season of Extreme E, aiming to build on the success achieved in the past three years and promising our audience a strong season this year.

“We are excited to come back to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for the opening rounds of the new season,” he added. “The Kingdom has always been a magnificent backdrop for us throughout the years, and we expect the same great experience when we return in February to a fantastic new location near Jeddah.”