RIYADH: CEO of the Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation Tariq Ziad Sagga has outlined the plans that set the Kingdom’s nascent national team on the path to winning the inaugural ACC Men’s Challenger Cup 2023 in Bangkok last week, highlighting the domestic and grassroots level programs that have been implemented in percent years.
Cricket is one of the world’s oldest popular sports and has been part of many cultures for centuries. Now the SACF, established as recently as 2020, has been thriving and has introduced a cricketing culture across the Kingdom in the blink of an eye by lining up a series of major programs focused on promoting the game among locals and expatriates.
“The Saudi cricket federation was established (just over) two years ago, and we have plans to implement domestic programs for cricket locally,” said Sagga in an exclusive interview with Arab News. “For example, our main championship is the National Cricket Championship, which started in 2021 with 11 cities and featured more than 400 teams, clubs and Under-16 associations, and over 30,000 participants. This year, participation will exceed 50,000.
“The second tournament we had was softball cricket in six cities and total participation exceeded 10,000 in 2022. This year hopefully it will exceed 15,000,” said the CEO.
Other programs include community cricket programs, such as Father’s Day and Mother’s Day cricket.
“Some of the national events are for National day and Founding Day of Saudi Arabia. For other cricketing nations like India and Pakistan, we do social events, and we have a different program,” Sagga said.
“We had the school cricket program, which we implemented in international schools in the main cities like Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam,” he added. “We also had talent hunt programs and workforce programs. We did many of these events in workforce camps, like Amaala, and expat camps in Dammam. So, we had a good number of tournaments locally and we are planning to do the Saudi League later this year, as well as the school championship.”
Sagga said that these programs are also part of the Kingdom’s mission to promote a healthy and active lifestyle under the Saudi Vision 2030’s Quality of Life initiative, with the SACF, supported by the Ministry of Sports and Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee, mandated to increase physical activity levels by 40 percent over the next decade.
“We are covering most of the regions in Saudi Arabia, and this year we are going to cover all 13 regions,” he said.
On introducing cricketing culture across the Kingdom in such a short period of time, Sagga said that the challenge they are facing is the perception most Saudis have that cricket is a dangerous street sport, played in risky places and not organized.
“So, we need to change this perception first,” he said. “We have short-term and long-term plans. For the short term, we are going to focus on marketing campaigns, creating videos and developing a proper ground to enable us to broadcast some of the matches and to change some of the perceptions the locals have about the sport itself,” he said.
“Our (long-term) plans involve focusing on the grassroots and the kids, introducing cricket to them in schools and implementing entertaining activities for them so that in the future they can play cricket at a more professional level,” he added.