Sport plays key part in ambitious Makkah quality of life improvement program

Sport plays key part in ambitious Makkah quality of life improvement program
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Sport plays key part in ambitious Makkah quality of life improvement program
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Updated 28 March 2023

Sport plays key part in ambitious Makkah quality of life improvement program

Sport plays key part in ambitious Makkah quality of life improvement program
  • Makkah mayor’s assistant undersecretary, Fahd bin Marzouq Al-Bishri, said local officials were looking to promote sporting activities and competition

MAKKAH: Ambitious plans aimed at improving the quality of life for people in Makkah have so far seen the building of 118 sports venues and numerous pedestrian zones.

Football, volleyball, and tennis courts are among the new facilities that have been provided by Makkah Municipality throughout the city and affiliated governorates.

Makkah mayor’s assistant undersecretary, Fahd bin Marzouq Al-Bishri, said local officials were looking to promote sporting activities and competition, particularly among youth, while also spotting talent.

The municipality has more than 843,000 square meters of green zones containing dedicated areas set aside for leisure pursuits.

Dr. Turki Al-Hamidi, a resident of Al-Shoqiyah neighborhood in Makkah, said the municipality’s initiatives would not only help improve the health of the population but also create a more vibrant and aesthetically pleasing environment.

“This directly contributes to people’s happiness and eliminates negative phenomena, the most important of which are removing random graffiti on walls, reducing construction waste, and ensuring street cleanliness,” he added.

Ali Al-Harthy, from Al-Sharia in eastern Makkah, said it was important to make cities more competitive and smarter while improving the quality of life for residents.

“We all must focus on the human dimension and take into account the wide design of playgrounds, parks, and main streets, and respect aspects of design, especially in green spaces, as they are considered environmentally friendly concepts,” he added.

More than 226,000 trees and 15,000 palm trees have planted in the municipality as part of a major landscaping program.

Al-Harthy said: “Officials must realize how important it is for people to take strolls, especially since Makkah receives over 2 million visitors, so its infrastructure and streets must be in harmony with the ambitious vision of the Kingdom, particularly since Makkah is loved by people from around the world and has been known as a civilized city throughout history.”

He noted that public areas were being built or redesigned to meet international standards that ensured access for all.


Party in Jeddah while Talisca takes centre-stage in Riyadh from absent Ronaldo

Party in Jeddah while Talisca takes centre-stage in Riyadh from absent Ronaldo
Updated 01 June 2023

Party in Jeddah while Talisca takes centre-stage in Riyadh from absent Ronaldo

Party in Jeddah while Talisca takes centre-stage in Riyadh from absent Ronaldo
  • Al-Ittihad celebrated in Jeddah their first league title since 2009

The pressure may have been off Al-Ittihad in Jeddah on Wednesday but the celebratory atmosphere will never be forgotten by those present at the King Abdullah Sports City Stadium. The memories will last longer than the 2-0 win over Al-Tai as fans heralded their heroes and first title-winners since 2009.

As expected, the hosts had the better of the 90 minutes but with the job already done, few of the home fans cared much that there was only a second half penalty to show for their efforts and then an injury time strike.

As well as a first domestic championship win for coach Nuno Santo, it was clean sheet number 19 for Marcelo Grohe and a third golden boot in Saudi Arabia for Abderrazak Hamdallah. The Moroccan scored from the spot with 17 minutes remaining against a backdrop of thousands of phones recording history and a moment that will be replayed again and again. 

The goal took his tally to 21 for the season. There was just enough time for Helder Costa to add a second, a fitting way to end as the winger was brought over by Santo, his former coach at Wolverhampton Wanderers. Hamdallah finished a goal ahead of Anderson Talisca of Al-Nassr.

Al-Ittihad’s Hamdallah lifts the trophy. (@ittihad)

In the absence of Ronaldo who picked up a muscle injury at the end of last Saturday’s draw with Ettifaq that left the Yellows five points behind the leaders, Talisca took centre-stage as they defeated Al-Fateh 3-0. A smart low Abdulaziz Al-Aliwa pass found the Brazilian who rounded the goalkeeper and slotted home from close range. Shortly before the break, he netted again but this time the goal was ruled out. No matter, it came midway through the second half with a smart first time shot from just inside the area. Talisca then assisted Mohammed Maran to make it 3-0.

In third, Al-Hilal ended an up and down season with an up and down performance, taking a 3-0 lead over Al-Raed before being pegged back to 3-2. It has been a good campaign for teenage midfielder Musab Al-Juwayr who opened the scoring after 17 minutes. Mohammed Al-Qahtani added a second before the break and Abdullah Otayf, in his last appearance in the blue shirt, made it three with ten minutes remaining. Two late goals from the visitors showed that there is work to do however. 

There are sure to be plenty of changes at the club over the coming weeks. Already head coach Ramon Diaz is back in Argentina and a number of the foreign players look to be on their way out. For now, though, finishing third, winning the King’s Cup and reaching the final of both the Asian Champions League and FIFA Club World Cup finals will have to do. For most clubs, that would be seen as quite a season but Hilal, who are now able to sign players after being banned from doing so in the past two transfer windows, are going to go again.

Al-Ittihad players celebrate the title. (@ittihad)

Al-Shabab, who once looked like they were the team to beat for the title, ended a run of five defeats in six with a 4-1 win over Damac. Aaron Boupendza signed off with all four. There should also be praise given to Al-Taawoun who won their last six games, including against the new champions, to finish fifth, just a point behind.

While everything at the top had been settled there was still the issue of which team will join Al-Batin in the second tier next season. Al-Adalah and Al-Khaleej had been finding their form of late to leave Al-Fayha looking nervously over their shoulders. In the second half, Al-Khaleej looked to be heading down as they were a man down and drawing 1-1 at home to Abha but then Morato intervened to score twice to give three points and another season in the top flight. Al-Adalah dropped.

It has been a season to remember and it will take time to digest everything that has happened. Not much can be said about next season but there are going to be a lot of changes in the next few weeks. A thrilling season is going to be followed by a busy summer.


Sevilla in seventh heaven after Europa League win

Sevilla in seventh heaven after Europa League win
Updated 01 June 2023

Sevilla in seventh heaven after Europa League win

Sevilla in seventh heaven after Europa League win
  • Gonzalo Montiel netted the decisive spot-kick after Mancini and Roger Ibanez had failed to convert for Roma
  • Sevilla made it seven wins in seven finals in Europe’s second-tier competition

BUDAPEST: Sevilla found their Europa League magic formula on Wednesday, beating Roma 4-1 on penalties after a 1-1 draw to make it seven wins in seven finals in Europe’s second-tier competition.

The Spanish side trailed after Paulo Dybala’s first-half opener in Budapest but pulled level in the second period when Roma defender Gianluca Mancini scored an own goal.

Extra-time could not separate the teams and the game went to penalties at the Puskas Arena.

Gonzalo Montiel, who scored the winning penalty in the 2022 World Cup final, netted the decisive spot-kick after Mancini and Roger Ibanez had failed to convert for Roma.

Earlier, Paulo Dybala put Jose Mourinho’s Roma in front in the 35th minute only for a revitalized Sevilla to drew level 10 minutes after the break through a Mancini own goal.

The fans created a crackling atmosphere before kickoff but the early stages of the game did not match the color in the stands.

The Italian side created the first opportunity of the match but Leonardo Spinazzola shot straight at Sevilla goalkeeper Yassine Bounou after neat build-up play involving Dybala and Zeki Celik.

Just after the half-hour, Roma appealed for a spot-kick after forward Tammy Abraham was caught on the head by a high boot from Nemanja Gudelj as the Sevilla defender was clearing the ball but VAR confirmed it was not a penalty.

But minutes later they were in front.

Dybala ran between two defenders and latched onto Mancini’s through ball from the center circle, coolly slotting his shot past Bounou.

Sevilla, finally finding some fluency, came agonizingly close to levelling deep into the seven minutes of added-on time when Ivan Rakitic drilled a fierce left-footed strike from distance that cannoned back off an upright.

Sevilla boss Jose Luis Mendilibar brought on forward Suso and Erik Lamela for Oliver Torres and Bryan Gil at the break and the Spanish side began the second period on the front foot.

They were level after 10 minutes when Mancini bundled a Jesus Navas cross from the right into his own net from close range.

Roma seemed certain to re-take the lead against the run of play midway through the second half but the Sevilla defenders somehow scrambled the ball away after several stabs at goal from close range.

Dybala, starting a match for the first time since mid-April, was withdrawn, with midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum coming on to replace him.

Sevilla thought they had a penalty with 15 minutes to go after referee Anthony Taylor ruled that Ibanez had brought down Lucas Ocampos but the decision was overturned by VAR.

The Italian side should have been ahead in the 83rd minute but substitute Andrea Belotti failed to keep his shot on target with only the goalkeeper to beat after captain Lorenzo Pellegrini found him with a clever dinked free-kick.

Extra time was largely uneventful as tempers flared between the two benches but Roma defender Chris Smalling almost snatched the win when he hit the woodwork with a looping header from a corner in the dying seconds.

Sevilla had the advantage in the shootout when Mancini’s penalty was saved and when Ibanez hit the post the Spanish side appeared certain winners.

But there was still more drama to come.

Montiel’s effort was saved by Rui Patricio but the kick was ordered to be re-taken after an encroachment by the goalkeeper and this time the Argentine made no mistake.


Brazil court seeks arrest of LA Galaxy’s Costa for failing to pay child support

Brazil court seeks arrest of LA Galaxy’s Costa for failing to pay child support
Updated 31 May 2023

Brazil court seeks arrest of LA Galaxy’s Costa for failing to pay child support

Brazil court seeks arrest of LA Galaxy’s Costa for failing to pay child support
  • The 32-year-old Costa cannot be arrested outside Brazil, according to the court’s ruling

SAO PAULO: A Brazilian court is seeking the arrest of L.A. Galaxy striker Douglas Costa for failing to pay for child support.
An attorney for the Brazilian striker said on Tuesday in a statement that he trusts the decision by a judge in the city of Porto Alegre will be reversed. Details of the case are sealed.
The 32-year-old Costa cannot be arrested outside Brazil, according to the court’s ruling, which was issued on Friday.
Costa has played for Brazil, Bayern Munich and Juventus. He signed a deal with the Major League Soccer team in February 2022, and it runs to December.


Forwards Nkunku, Dembélé recalled by France for Euro qualifiers

Forwards Nkunku, Dembélé recalled by France for Euro qualifiers
Updated 31 May 2023

Forwards Nkunku, Dembélé recalled by France for Euro qualifiers

Forwards Nkunku, Dembélé recalled by France for Euro qualifiers
  • The two strikers were included in coach Didier Deschamps’ squad for upcoming European Championship qualifiers against Gibraltar and Greece
  • France top the Group B standings in qualifying after back-to-back wins against the Netherlands and Ireland

PARIS: Christopher Nkunku and Ousmane Dembélé were recalled Wednesday to France’s national team.
The two strikers were included in coach Didier Deschamps’ squad for upcoming European Championship qualifiers against Gibraltar and Greece after missing Les Bleus’ previous games due to injury.
France top the Group B standings in qualifying after back-to-back wins against the Netherlands and Ireland. The two-time world champions take on Gibraltar in Portugal on June 16, then host Greece three days later at the Stade de France.
Nkunku, who plays for RB Leipzig in the Bundesliga, has been sidelined for months due to a knee injury while Barcelona’s Dembele missed a series of games due to a hamstring problem.
Deschamps will be without the injured Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kanté, with William Saliba also missing because of a back injury.
France squad:
Goalkeepers: Alphonse Areola (West Ham), Mike Maignan (AC Milan), Brice Samba (Lens)
Defenders: Axel Disasi (Monaco), Wesley Fofana (Chelsea), Theo Hernandez (AC Milan), Ibrahima Konaté (Liverpool), Jules Koundé (Barcelona), Ferland Mendy (Real Madrid), Benjamin Pavard (Bayern Munich), Dayot Upamecano (Bayern Munich)
Midfielders: Eduardo Camavinga (Real Madrid), Youssouf Fofana (Monaco), Antoine Griezmann (Atlético Madrid), Adrien Rabiot (Juventus), Aurélien Tchouaméni (Real Madrid),
Forwards: Kingsley Coman (Bayern Munich), Ousmane Dembélé (Barcelona), Olivier Giroud (AC Milan), Randal Kolo Muani (Eintracht Frankfurt), Kylian Mbappé (Paris Saint-Germain), Christopher Nkunku (RB Leipzig), Marcus Thuram (Borussia Mönchengladbach).


Meet Kash Shaikh, man bringing ‘baseball diplomacy’ to Middle East, South Asia

Meet Kash Shaikh, man bringing ‘baseball diplomacy’ to Middle East, South Asia
Updated 31 May 2023

Meet Kash Shaikh, man bringing ‘baseball diplomacy’ to Middle East, South Asia

Meet Kash Shaikh, man bringing ‘baseball diplomacy’ to Middle East, South Asia
  • Houston, Texas native is chairman, CEO of Baseball United, 1st pro baseball league focused on Middle East, Indian subcontinent
  • Kash Shaikh: ‘It’s a fascinating thing. I run my businesses, including Baseball United, our team, our culture, we run it like a sports team’

DUBAI: For Kash Shaikh, it is all about “bringing people together.”

It, in this case, is the monumental task of bringing professional baseball to the Middle East and South Asia. He described it as “baseball diplomacy.”

Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Baseball United, the first-ever professional baseball league focused on the Middle East and Indian subcontinent, Shaikh told Arab News: “Everyone on our leadership team is a lifelong baseball fan.

“We’ve been connected to the game, either as executives or players or fans, for really our whole life. We have a collective 500 years of baseball experience within our leadership team.

“About a year-and-a-half ago, we all came together with this idea, this vision to grow the game of baseball. And as we were thinking through the potential opportunities with the game, what we realised pretty quickly was that the biggest opportunity for growth was international. And the best place for that growth would be the Middle East and South Asia, for a few reasons.”

He referred to his target region as “the epicenter of bat and ball sports,” with more than 1 billion cricket fans.

Shaikh said: “It’s also a region that’s fully embracing sport and investing in sport. Dubai, and the UAE is a big example, so too is Saudi Arabia, Qatar, obviously, and other countries throughout the region.

“And it’s a region where this is a completely white-space opportunity from a business and a brand-building standpoint. There are no professional baseball leagues in the region, we’re the first, and there’s not much professional baseball and baseball infrastructure at all within the region.

“There are passionate people who love the game though. There are kids who have tools and talent, there are coaches who want to teach, there are federations speckled across the region that have been working really hard for decades, but just haven’t got the resources, the funding, and the support that are necessary to grow. We call those nations, the forgotten nations of baseball,” he added.

There are currently 141 members of the World Baseball Softball Confederation, the sport’s governing body. Most of those beyond the top 30 were considered among the so-called forgotten nations. “That’s our constituency,” he said.

“The fan base is there, people don't realize there’s actually over 50 million avid baseball fans within India and over 60 million avid baseball fans within the region. That’s more avid baseball fans than we have in the United States right now. So, it’s a huge, huge opportunity.”

When it came to picking a base of operation for the new project, Shaikh opted for a location he had become familiar with over the years.

“Dubai is amazing. The leadership is amazing. The government vision is inspiring. When the UAE and Dubai get behind sport, it really step-changes the engagement across the region.

“We’ve seen what has happened with golf in the region. We’ve seen what’s happened with MMA, we’ve seen what’s happened with F1. And actually, there are more avid baseball fans than there are avid golf fans, MMA fans, or F1 fans in the region.

“Everything about Dubai, the infrastructure, the leadership, the innovation, the beauty of the city, was what drew us to the city,” he added.

Shaikh was born in Houston, Texas to a father from Mumbai and a mother from Islamabad. After attending The University of Texas at Austin — where he founded the first ever South Asian fraternity in the US — he worked for American multi-national corporation Procter and Gamble for 10 years, and had a stint with GoPro, before going on to start several successful businesses of his own.

His career allowed him to spend long stretches of time in the Middle East region.

Getting Baseball United off the ground has been far from easy, but Shaikh pointed out that he had the right partners to make it a success.

He said: “I’m grateful for the partners we have on the ground. We’ve got a great, great relationship with the Sports Council, we’ve got a great relationship with Dubai Sports City. And we wouldn’t be able to do this without them.”

Already two franchises have been established, the first being the Mumbai Cobras and the second — following recent talks with the Pakistan Federation Baseball — the Karachi Monarchs. Once the last two of the initial group of four are named, eyes will turn to Dubai in November.

“We’re starting in November, with our first four franchises playing a Showcase event in Dubai. Nov. 5 through 12, we’re calling Baseball Week in Dubai. And we’ll have a series of different events that are going to be exciting for fans and for people within the region that we’re going to announce soon. That week will culminate on Nov. 10 through 12, with the Showcase.”

The action, involving four games, will take place at the 25,000-capacity Dubai International Stadium, one of cricket’s homes in the UAE.

“If we can get 5,000 people in the stands, we’re going to be doing great. We’ll probably be setting records for leagues,” he added.

The next big landmark date after that for Baseball United will be November 2024, when an eight-franchise league will be launched in Dubai.

Shaikh noted that 800 players, from 30 countries, currently on Baseball United’s database had been vetted and scouted, with 200 already notified that they had made the list to potentially to play in the Showcase in November, as well as in 2024’s Season 1.

He said: “We have some of the best players from Finland, some of the best players from the Dominican Republic, we have some of the best players from the Far East, coming to play in the league. We have some really exciting former Major League Baseball players too, and that’s going to be cool when announced. So, we have those as the core.”

The next step in terms of rosters will be to introduce local talent, whether from existing national teams, or through grass-roots projects and training programs in the region — starting with India and Pakistan and then expanding into the Middle East.

“We’re going to be in Saudi Arabia (in June) meeting with the federation there, so I’m really excited,” Shaikh added.

An array of baseball stars past and present have in recent months backed Baseball United, not just through endorsements, but by investing their own money in the project. Among them are Felix Hernandez, Adrian Beltre, Mariano Rivera, and Barry Larkin, as well as Elvis Andrus, still an active player with the Chicago White Sox.

“There’s no way we could have done this without our Major League Baseball legends who’ve come on board. They’ve added credibility, they’ve driven excitement. And they have also ensured that the culture of the organization is focused on not just building a business and making money, but helping people, inspiring people, building community, and changing culture, all those things that I’ve been passionate about.

“They’re calling me all the time asking what’s up, what’s next?”

Shaikh was a big sports fan growing up in Texas and played basketball through college, and he has carried his experiences into his career, in particular the new venture.

He said: “It’s a fascinating thing. We run our businesses, including Baseball United, like a sports team.

“We have a culture that’s about camaraderie and accountability and discipline. I feel really blessed because I played team sports my whole life, I’m passionate about it.”